The next time you buy chicken or eggs from Tesco, they may come from birds fed genetically modified soya.
The supermarket chain yesterday abandoned its 11-year commitment not to sell poultry reared on the controversial GM feed.
The original controls were put in place to reflect the concerns of shoppers, who question the impact of GM crops on human health and the countryside.
Tesco, Britain’s biggest seller of fresh chicken and eggs, claims the U-turn has been prompted by its farmers and their suppliers, who say they are finding it increasingly difficult to source non-GM soya.
This suggests the diet of families in the UK is effectively being controlled by US biotech companies responsible for creating GM crops. None of the chicken or eggs produced from birds given this ‘Frankenstein food’ diet will be labelled as such, leaving customers in the dark.
Yet a survey conducted by the Government’s Food Standards Agency last year found two in three people believe meat, eggs and milk produced from animals given a GM diet should be labelled.
Peter Melchett is policy director at the Soil Association, which supports organic farming.
He accused Tesco of ignoring the wishes of customers and said it was simply wrong to claim it was difficult to get non-GM feed.
‘Tesco are ignoring the overwhelming majority of the British people,’ he said. ‘Shamefully, Tesco are planning to keep their use of GM feed secret from their customers.’
He added: ‘Tesco are also wrong about the availability of non-GM animal feed. They have swallowed the line being pedalled by multi-national, industrial farming companies that non-GM feed is getting scarcer. In fact, in Brazil alone, there is enough non-GM animal feed to supply the whole of Europe.’
There is some dispute as to whether animals fed a GM diet are changed as a result. The Food Standards Agency says that the DNA from GM soya is not present in the meat of animals fed on it, nor in products such as eggs or milk.
But critics claim scientists have shown that fragments of genetically modified DNA, at least, are present in the resulting food.
Tesco’s announcement came from group technical director, Tim Smith, who was chief executive at the FSA during a period when it was perceived as being pro-GM.
The store said customers who want to guarantee meat and eggs from animals given a non-GM diet can choose to buy organic.
Mr Smith wrote on the Tesco website yesterday: ‘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. We could not continue with a promise we cannot be sure it is possible to keep and we want to be up-front about the changes we are making.’
Morrisons and Asda have already dropped their own bans on GM feed. Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s are still refusing to use GM for their chickens.
Last night Tesco insisted that it takes full responsibility for lifting the ban. A spokesman said: ‘This is our decision, made after consulting suppliers. We are not blaming suppliers or farmers.’
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