By Pat Thomas, Founder/Director of Beyond GM.                                                                      

We are seeking the views of chefs and the general public on GMOs in the restaurant food chain – and here is why.

For many chefs and others in the foodservice industry, quality of ingredients – where they come from and the methods by which they are produced – is an important consideration.

Although genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not often considered in this context, they nevertheless speak to the heart of both sustainability and provenance issues.

For example, the high-input farming required to grow GMOs and the large monocultures they encourage are sustainability issues, while the methods by which GMOs are produced speak to provenance.

Is it ‘authentic’?

A genetically modified organism is defined as something created in a lab using techniques that cannot occur in nature. This definition is being pushed to the limits as new technologies for genetically engineering foods come on line.

One of these, synthetic biology (synbio) uses DNA codes written on computers and printed on 3D bio printers to produce totally man-made versions of common ingredients such as vanilla, saffron, stevia, coconut and cocoa and a variety of other flavourings and fragrances.

This and other GM technologies provoke legitimate questions about authenticity: Is bread baked from wheat that has a gene from a cow in it suitable for vegetarians? Are those lamb cutlets the product of laboratory cloned sheep? Is that tomato really a tomato if it has a gene from a fish in it?

Starting a new conversation

In the US, chefs like Alice Waters and Tom Colicchio are already having these discussions – amongst themselves, but also with customers. But in the UK our chefs, caterers, hoteliers and restaurateurs are largely silent – and possibly not well-informed.

Yet the food environment is changing rapidly. In the UK there are ongoing field trials for GM camelina, wheat and potatoes. In the past year, dozens of new GMOs have been approved for food and feed at EU level. In the US, GMO salmon, potatoes and apples are on sale – and looking for new markets.

These things are happening in the midst of a new and challenging context – namely Brexit, a revived relationship with the US and multiple international trade deals, all of which aim to see Europe embrace GMOs in the way the Americas have.

Personal preferences and informed choice

More than 25% of the UK population regularly eats out. An even larger percentage – around 70 % of those polled – are opposed to GMOs.

For this reason Beyond GM will be focussing on GMOs in the restaurant and catering food chain this year. As a first step in our Stir the Pot initiative we have produced a survey which we hope everyone who eats out – including chefs and others in the industry – will take part in (and help promote!).

The survey focuses on preferences and informed choice when eating out and its results will inform a special report we are producing on GMOs in the restaurant and catering food chain and this, in turn, will form the basis of talks planned for later in the year.

Hidden GMOs

You may think you don’t use GMOs and yet 80% of the meat we eat in the UK is fed on GM animal feed. Many restaurants and fast food outlets are using GM oil – perhaps without even knowing it – and without knowing that they are breaking the law if they don’t say so on the menu.

In a country where a majority are against farming using GMOs or eating them, an acknowledgement of GMO ingredients on the menu is bound to throw up some interesting conversations, and PR – as pizza chain Dominoes found when it admitted it was using GM ingredients in its pizza bases.

We all need to be ready to have those discussions – so let’s start talking.