SUPERMARKET giant Tesco is no longer guaranteeing customers that its own-label fresh and frozen poultry and eggs are fed only non-genetically modified feed.
The admission made by Tim Smith, the retailer’s group technical director, has been condemned by campaignn GeneWatch UK.
In comments published on the Tesco website, Mr Smith insisted there will be no impact on the safety and quality of the food or its taste.
He said: “Customers sometimes ask us about the use of GM ingredients in poultry feed.
“We have answered with a guarantee that our own-label fresh and frozen poultry and eggs are only fed non-GM feed and we wrote it into the contracts we have with our poultry and egg suppliers.
“Over recent weeks UK poultry and egg suppliers have been telling retailers that it is increasingly difficult for them to guarantee that the feed they use is entirely GM free, for two reasons.
“First, soya is the best source of protein to feed livestock. And as soya producers are increasingly turning to GM soya, it means they are producing less non-GM soya, so there simply isn’t enough non-GM feed available.
“It is a global supply issue – 80 per cent of the world’s soya is now modified. Farmers across the world choose to grow modified soya for a number of reasons, but usually because modified crops are more resistant to certain pests and diseases.
“Second, because so much soya is modified and because of the way crops are planted, processed and transported, it is possible that non-GM soya crops 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. 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.
“This does not mean that the poultry and eggs we sell will be genetically modified in any way, just an ingredient in the feed which they eat.”
He added that he wanted to be clear with customers about food and that was why Tesco was removing the GM-free guarantee for poultry and eggs.
“We are not the first UK supermarket to reach the conclusion that a non-GM policy on poultry feed is unsustainable, and we won’t be the last.
“Asda and Morrisons already allow GM feed for poultry products, and our suppliers also work with other UK retailers,” he said.
But Dr Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK, described Tesco’s decision as “a kick in the teeth for all its customers who want to eat GM-free food”, claiming it was GM soya from North and South America being used by agricultural company Monsanto as feed for Tesco’s poultry products.
She said: “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.
“Tesco’s statement justifying its decision makes false claims that GM soya is resistant to pests and disease; not true, it is resistant to weedkillers, and that there is a shortage of non-GM soya; also untrue as plenty of non-GM soya is grown in Brazil.
“In reality, supplies are driven by demand and major supermarket chains such as Carrefour in France now sell products labelled ‘free from GM feed’.”