UK supermarkets to stay GM-free

Related tags Gm Genetically modified organism Food

Consumer indifference - not to say hostility - towards
genetically-modified products in the UK means that British
supermarkets are likely to stay firmly GM-free in 2004, according
to an annual survey of retailers carried out by

The survey results show that opposition to GM foods is as strong as it was in 1999, when supermarkets first removed GM foods and ingredients from their shelves. Just as in 1999, no UK supermarket includes GM food or ingredients in its own-label products and supermarkets are also increasingly specifying GM-free feed for animals producing their meat, milk and eggs.

The UK government is apparently looking to take a more open approach to GM crops this year - it has made no secret of the fact that it would like to begin full-scale production - but there will be few - if any - opportunities for any British-grown GM crops on supermarket shelves, according to the survey.

Ever-conscious of consumer antipathy towards GM foods, all of the British supermarket chains contacted by confirmed that they would not be stocking any product containing modified ingredients.

"The Co-op will not be introducing any GM products in the coming year,"​ said Alan Davies from the co-operative's customer relations department, a sentiment echoed by his counterpart at Iceland, Pauline Chapman. "As we were the first retailer to ban GM foods in May 1998, I can confirm that we will continue with the decision that we made then."

Kate O'Sullivan at Sainsbury's said much the same thing: "In response to overwhelming customer concern and demand for non-GM foods, Sainsbury's was the first major supermarket to eliminate GM ingredients from all own brand products. All of our own brand food, pet food and dietary supplements are clearly labelled and do not contain any GM ingredients. We continue to offer our customers the quality food and choice they expect from Sainsbury's."

Lucy Taylor of Waitrose went even further: "Since the end of March 1999, no Waitrose own label product has contained any GM ingredients as defined by law. Food safety is of paramount importance to both Waitrose and its customers.

"The debate about growing GM crops and the foods produced from them has elevated concerns about food, environmental and consumer safety issues. These include the possible effects on wildlife and their environment, and the transfer of 'inserted' characteristics to other crops or native plants.

"We aim to keep on top of any developing methods, concerns and issues that are raised, and will operate an 'authenticity' programme to ensure that all consignments of goods are free of GMOs. This programme uses a system of traceability from seed to supplier, known as an 'Identity Preserved' system that we require in our Technical Policy."

Not surprisingly, the retailers' stance was welcomed by anti-GM lobby group Friends of the Earth. Usually one of the sternest critics of the British retail sector, FoE was for once full of praise for the supermarket groups.

The organisation's GM campaigner Clare Oxborrow said: "We welcome the fact that supermarkets are standing firm in rejecting GM ingredients in their food. This is another clear signal that there is no market for GM food in the UK.

"The government should join the supermarkets in listening to overwhelming public opposition to GM. Instead of pressing ahead with plans for GM food and crops, it should be helping British farmers provide sustainably produced food that people want to eat."

Related topics Market Trends Food Safety & Quality

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