Retailers drop anti-GM poultry feed stance

THREE OF THE country’s more ethical supermarkets have removed requirements for their suppliers to give poultry only GM-free feed.


Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and The Coop have all announced changes to their policies given that they could no longer guarantee the integrity of GM-free soy. Tesco has also done the same.


Organic groups criticised the decision and said the retailers were “misleading consumers”.


The poultry feed policies were put in place 12 years ago when an agreement was struck between the poultry industry and food companies to market UK poultry and eggs as GM-free. A unilateral ban on giving GM feed to broilers and layers was put in place.


However, the pot of GM-free soy – a staple in poultry feed – has been rapidly shrinking ever since; in Brazil 89% of the crop is genetically modified. This has led to more and more instances of contamination in GM-free feed. At February’s Footprint Forum on the subject, some farmers argued that retailers, and caterers, who continued with their GM-free feed policies were “lying” to consumers.


“It’s a matter of honesty,” explained Charles Bourns, a farmer and president of the EU Commission’s egg and poultry advisory group. “If I’m going to find it impossible to buy genuinely GM-free soy, the last thing I want is for a newspaper to find out that [my animals] are fed on GM.” Bourns said it was time to “bite the bullet” and “to tell consumers that we can’t supply [poultry fed on GM-free soy] because it’s not being grown.”


Now it seems that they have. M&S, Sainsbury’s, The Coop and Tesco have this week all joined Morrisons and Asda in relaxing their GM feed policies. Only Waitrose now has a GM-free policy in place for its fresh poultry and eggs.


M&S said the change is “absolutely necessary because there is now a much-reduced supply of non-GM feed available to UK farmers. As such we can now no longer guarantee that our fresh meat has been fed on a non-GM diet. Our organic fresh meat ranges will still be available to customers who want to consider an alternative option.”


However, organic groups and anti-GM campaigners condemned the moves.  The Soil Association’s policy director Peter Melchett, said: “Tesco and the Co-Op are misleading their customers by claiming that the GM feed will not be detectable in products like eggs, milk or chicken. This is not true.  M&S, The Coop and Tesco are also misleading their customers by claiming that non-GM feed isn’t available. They are wrong. In Brazil alone, there is enough non-GM animal feed to supply the whole of Europe,” he added.


The anti-GM policies of the retailers have made consumers wary of the foods. A recent survey by the Food Standards Agency found that 67% of 1,467 consumers think it is “very or quite important” to write on a label if the product is from animals fed on GM plants. The Soil Association said the findings were a “major blow” to the government’s GM labelling policy, and called for more British supermarkets to follow the lead of Carrefour, which labels all produce from animals not fed on GM.


  • A full analysis of the GM-free feed issue, debated at February’s Footprint forum, is available here.