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.

Readers' comments (2)

  • The British Poultry Council's statement that "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". is a powerful indictment of how we are allowing a few global GM and agri-business companies to control our food supply. Can farmers and retailers be happy with this situation? Consumers certainly aren't and all of us as citizen's should fight against it.

    In fact the BPC's claim is highly misleading. It is still possible to guarantee GM free food - though it might be difficult in the future if we fail to curb the attempts by the GM industry to control the food chain. Where is the BPC's evidence that the feed supply chain is contaminated with GM? How many samples do they take? What is the range and spread? Or they saying that UK feed importers and manufacturers are braking the 0.9% threshold at which GM contamination has to be legally declared? Are they saying that retailers are putting up with that?

    Probably not. The statement is highly misleading PR nonsense as is their statement that GM crops are highly regulated for health and environmental safety.

    In fact, it is possible to source supplies of non GM produced soya. If non-GM produced feed supplies can be secured by supermarkets in Germany and France why not by those in the the UK?

    Is it because they and the feed manufacturers in those countries are able and willing to buy "forward"? They plan, make the commitment and secure supply. UK importers and feed manufacturers however have never made this commitment. Instead they end up scrabbling around for supply and end up on the wrong end of the prices.

    This year they under-bought; partially because of price and partially because some of them probably wanted to force retailers to either make a clear long term commitment backed up by contracts to non-GM supply or to pull out all together. Doubtless, along with the BPC and the NFU, some saw this later option as the preferable one.

    There is plenty of non-GM produced soya available for the EU market and the statements coming from UK retailers and their suppliers and the BPC and NFU are misleading.

    This is a sorry indictment of the sector's commitment to openness and honesty and to provide consumers with products they want.It is made worse by the fact that retailers are refusing to provide labelling or any form of point of sale information on those livestock products where GM feed has been used.

    Whatever one’s views about GM technology, this has to be seen as a significant blow to the claims of the UK food retail and agricultural sectors to be responsive to consumer wishes and to be transparent and honest in their dealings..

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  • My thank you to Lawrence Woodward for his excellent presentation of the facts of this case.
    One reason that many farmers grow GM crops is that the big GM seed developers have bought up many smaller seed companies and have now either totally or mostly withdrawn non-GM seeds from many markets; the farmer either grows the GM variety or must grow a different crop altogether.
    Another reason that many farmers continue to grow GM crops, in spite of lower income due to poorer yields and increasingly high costs of the patented seeds and associated chemicals, is that if the farmer discontinues purchasing the seeds (and licence) after the first year, it is nevertheless possible that stray GM plants may be found on the land. The seed developer can then pounce on the farmer for infringement of patent rights and sue the farmer, who will be required to pay high damages that would outweigh the losses resulting from use of the GM seeds.
    Patent law is at fault and needs to be redressed, especially as big seed corporations now want to patent even conventional seeds for their own profit. There is an important petition calling for reform at http://www.avaaz.org/en/monsanto_vs_mother_earth_rb/?bhGBnab&v=24005.

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