British supermarket Tesco has abandoned its long standing assurance that its poultry meat and eggs don't come from birds fed on genetically modified feed.
The retailer ended its 11 year ethical commitment, claiming that due to modern methods and increased production of GM soya in the world's major grain exporting nations it can no longer vouch for its poultry feed. The commitment originally applied to Tesco's own-brand products.
The announcement comes just one month after the retailer published poetically worded full-page apologies in major newspapers and pledged to improve its traceability, source more of its meat products from within the UK, treat its farmers more fairly and simplify its supply chains. The 'corporate mea culpa' was in response to Tesco's embroilment in the ongoing processed meat scandal.
In a letter to Tesco customers, published on Friday, technical director Tim J Smith claimed "We could not continue with a promise we cannot be sure it is possible to keep. There simply isn't enough non-GM feed available. It is a global supply issue – 80% of the world's soya is now modified."
Supermarket chains Asda and Morrisons have also recently dropped their commitments to non-GM animal feed. The supermarket announcements follow major industry lobbying from the NFU, British Poultry Council and British Egg Industry Council aimed at encouraging retailers to drop their commitments to GM-free feed.
However, Soil Association Policy Director Peter Melchett disputed the supermarket director's assertions. He said, "There is plenty of non-GM animal feed available, and the amount of non-GM feed imported into Europe is increasing. Tesco are wrong about this - they have swallowed 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. The quantity of non-GM imported feed into Europe is going up year on year, because supermarkets in countries like France and Germany are avoiding GM feed as their customers want – the opposite of Tesco's new move."
In January this year, the Food Standards Agency in Britain published the results of a study conducted in summer 2012 which revealed that consumers generally remain sceptical of GM and that overwhelming majority want labelling extended to include products from animals that had been fed on GM grain.
Peter Melchett added, "Shamefully, Tesco are planning to keep their use of GM feed secret from their customers by not labelling products from animals fed on GM."
Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK also lambasted Tesco's decision. On Friday she said, "It is sad to see a major retailer caving in to [industry] pressure. Tesco's false statements about GM soya on its website show it is not even willing to be honest with its customers." She also used the examples of Brazil as a major exporter of non-GM feed and Carrefour supermarkets in France, which now sell products labelled "free from GM feed".