Tesco to permit GM feed in poultry rations
FOUR leading UK supermarkets have responded to industry pressure by dropping their bans on the use of genetically modified (GM) ingredients in poultry feed.
Following Tesco’s announcement on Thursday, Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer and the Co-op have followed suit by announcing they, too, have no option but to start permitting GM poultry feed. Asda and Morrisons already allow GM feed for poultry products, leaving Waitrose as the only retailer maintaining its ban on GM poultry rations.
Tim Smith, Tesco’s group technical director, said the UK’s biggest retailer had effectively been forced down this route as poultry and egg suppliers have been telling retailers in recent weeks it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to guarantee the feed they use is entirely GM free.
He explained that 80 per cent of the world’s soya is now GM as producers increasingly turn to the technology to benefit from ‘resistance to certain pests and diseases’. This means ‘there simply isn’t enough non-GM feed available’, he said.
He added that, because so much soya is GM and because of the way crops are planted, processed and transported, it is possible that supposedly non-GM soya crops already contain ‘low levels of GM soya’.
“The new DNA testing regime we have put in place has identified that the risk of finding GM material in non-GM feed is increasing,” he said.
“We could not continue with a promise we cannot be sure it is possible to keep and we want to be upfront about the changes we are making.”
He stressed that the change in policy referred only an ingredient in animal feed and did not mean that poultry and eggs sold by Tesco would be ‘genetically modified in any way’.
He said meat from a chicken fed on modified soya feed is no different to the meat of a chicken fed on non-GM feed.
He added that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) was ‘clear that DNA from modified soya is not present in the meat of animals fed on it, nor in animal products such as eggs or milk’ and that there is ‘absolutely no risk to health’ from eating meat from animals that have been fed GM feed.
The other three retailers to follow suit used similar justifications for their decisions.
The NFU, British Egg Industry Council and the British Poultry Council wrote to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) earlier this year about the possibility of more GM feed being permitted in the poultry sector.
NFU chief poultry adviser Kelly Watson welcomed Tesco’s announcement. “The poultry industry has been struggling to secure supplies of non-GM soya as Brazilian farmers move to more sustainable GM alternatives, therefore it can no longer guarantee that the feed only contains non-GM soya. Tesco should be congratulated for taking this proactive approach and being open with its customers,” she said.
She said the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) established in 2007 that recombinant DNA from GM plants used in feed does not end up in the final meat, milk or eggs.
A spokeswoman for the British Poultry Council said GM crops have been used in the UK to feed livestock, including poultry, destined for the retail supply chain around the world for the last 15 years.
“The availability of non-GM soya has reduced significantly in recent years as growers produce more GM varieties. The likelihood of accidental GM presence is much greater than ever before and so it is no longer possible to guarantee that feed is entirely GM-free,” she said.
But anti-GM campaigners condemned the move. Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, said Tesco was planning to keep their use of GM feed ‘secret’ from their customers by not labelling products from animals fed on GM.
“As the horsemeat scandal continues, the last thing the British public want is another hidden secret ingredient in the meat, milk and egg supply chain,” he said.
He insisted there is ‘plenty of non-GM animal feed available’ and accused the supermarkets of ‘swallowing the line being pedalled by pro-GM, multi-national, industrial farming companies’. “In Brazil alone, there is enough non-GM animal feed to supply the whole of Europe,” he said.
He added that Tesco and the Co-Op were ‘misleading their customers’ by claiming that the GM feed will not be detectable in products like eggs, milk or chicken. He said several research studies have found that GM DNA in animal feed is taken up by the animal’s organs and can then be detected in milk, meat and fish and that this had been confirmed by the Food Standards Agency.
Commenting on Twitter on Friday, the FSA said: “Improvements in detection means that tiny amounts of GM plant DNA could be detected in products from animals fed on GM crops.”
Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK said Tesco’s decision was a ‘kick in the teeth for all its customers who want to eat GM-free food’
“It is sad to see a major retailer caving into pressure from Monsanto and its allies. Tesco’s false statements about GM soya on its website show it is not even willing to be honest with its customers,” she said.