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3-Food: Supermarkets tell Blair: we won't stock GM

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TITLE:  Supermarkets tell Blair: we won't stock GM
SOURCE: The Observer, UK, by Mark Townsend,6903,972904,00.html
DATE:   June 8, 2003

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Supermarkets tell Blair: we won't stock GM

Supermarkets have told Tony Blair they will refuse to stock genetically
modified foods, even if he manages to persuade a sceptical public to
accept GM produce.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents 90 per cent of high-
street shops, has sent an unequivocal warning to the Government that GM
food is not commercially viable in the UK.

It argues that, while consumer antipathy towards the biotech industry
remains so entrenched, major retailers such as Tesco and Sainsbury's will
resist any move to stock GM products.

Their united stance threatens the Prime Minister with the embarrassing
scenario where GM crops are commercialised, yet no major outlets will
sell them.

David Southwell, of the BRC, confirmed it had made its position clear to
the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Food
Standards Agency.

'The customer is where the real power lies,' he said. 'Supermarkets are
not going to give shelf space to something that doesn't sell.'

Sainsbury's, whose former chief Lord Sainsbury, the Science Minister,
remains a staunch advocate of GM, confirmed it been in talks with the
Government over GM food.

The spokesman said the supermarket giant had no choice but to continue
rejecting the technology as long as customers 'made it clear' they did
not want GM produce.

Continued hostility to the biotech industry follows the launch of last
week's national debate on GM food and crops, condemned as a 'PR stunt'.

Critics add that the failure by the Environment Secretary Margaret
Beckett to explain how the debate would affect the Government's decision
on commercialisation has further undermined its integrity.

Her admission arrives amid mounting concern over the safety of GM food
and in particular the Government's apparent refusal to commission an
exhaustive study into its health effects.

Dr Vyvyan Howard, a toxicologist at Liverpool University and member of
the Government's advisory committee on pesticides, believes the decision
may have arisen from fears that they 'were scared of what they might find'.

He added: 'There is no logical reason for not doing this type of research
other than they may be frightened of the answer,' he added.

Last year the FSA commissioned the world's first known trial of GM foods
on human volunteers. It found that genes from GM food survive in the
human gut and may be picked up by bacteria in the body, raising fears
that consumers may contract infections resistant to antibiotics.

The FSA's failure to follow up the potentially critical findings with
further research has come under fire, with Arpad Pusztai, the scientist
who first raised fears about the safety of GM foods, yesterday calling on
the head of the FSA, Sir John Krebs, to resign.

Supporters of biotechnology point to the US, where GM food has been on
sale for years with no evidence of adverse health effects linked to its
consumption. Opponents counter that it remains impossible to know what
the effects of eating GM long-term are because consumers have never been
monitored for its effects.

A Defra spokesman said GM foods were subject to a detailed safety
assessment before they were approved for release.'This considers all the
risk factors that may arise in relation to health,' he added.


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