GENTECH archive


Brit food manufacturers turn backs on GM food

INDEPENDENT (London) June 10

By Charles Arthur and Jonathan Glennie

Britain's food producers are in headlong retreat from the use of
genetically modified (GM) soya in their products after a consumer backlash
against the technology, The Independent has found.

Almost all the major producers have taken steps to eliminate GM soya and
maize, or derivatives of them, from their products. The development will
push up the producers' costs by as much as 10 per cent, and may mean that
foods specifically incorporating GM elements will not appear on retailers'
shelves in Britain for at least two years.

But Lord Haskins, chairman of Northern Foods, which is one of the biggest
food companies, said yesterday that the reintroduction would not happen
until consumers, and then retailers, seem eager for it. He added that in
time there would be GM products available that offered a price or other
advantage to shoppers and retailers.

Only a handful of companies are now using soya that is not specifically
from non-GM sources. This marks an almost complete reversal of the
position a year ago.

Yesterday Northern Foods announced formally that it was stopping using GM
ingredients, a move revealed by The Independent last month. The decision
is a blow to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who has repeated backed GM
technology, since Lord Haskins is considered to be among his favourite

Lord Haskins said he was unimpressed by the pressure that producers have
experienced from retailers. "I'm ashamed at the way the retailers have
wobbled," he said. "They should have given their customers choice [through
labelling]." But he told the BBC's Today programme that the company was
bowing to buyer pressure. "I think it's clear that consumers don't want to
buy GM food," he commented.

He added that there was no incentive to use GM materials at present:
"There's no price attraction, there's no product attraction at the present
time and in that sense one is forced to renounce genetically engineered

A similar ambivalence has been expressed by the huge food group Nestle.
The company announced in April that it was removing GM ingredients from
its products, including its baby milk. Yet its chairman, Peter Brabeck,
said last month that GM food is "the technology of the future" and added:
"Building a wall against it is not a sensible strategy."

But in the face of consumer and retailer pressure, food producers have had
to examine the source of products such as soya and maize.

In the United States, GM varieties are mixed with conventional ones after
harvesting. About 30 per cent of soya grown there is genetically modified.

European labelling requirements mean that such mixed harvests should be
labelled as GM - even if they only contain tiny amounts of the GM product.
This has caused huge problems for retailers and producers, as shoppers
have shunned GM-labelled products.

The reaction has been swift. In the past week both Walker's, the crisp
maker, and the cereal manufacturer, Kelloggs, have shifted so that they
now declare that their products come from "non-GM sources". Walker's said
last night that it "is confident in our suppliers' control of the origin
and variety of soya", while Kelloggs said that the maize used in its
cereals comes from non-GM growers in Argentina.

A week ago a survey by Friends of the Earth found that 24 of the biggest
30 food producers in the UK were moving completely to non-GM sources.
Kelloggs and Walker's were among those whose positions were unclear. Last
night only Associated British Foods, which owns brands such as Kingsmill
bread, had not publicly clarified its position.

Meanwhile only a couple of the foods remaining on supermarket shelves -
notably a Sharwood's Chinese recipe with stir-in soya sauce - contain soya
requiring labelling as GM. Yesterday Rank Hovis McDougall, its
manufacturer, said: "Although we are confident that the GM soya used in
this product is safe, we plan to move away from it as soon as we are able
to find a suitable alternative."

Lord Haskins said that the door would not be closed on GM produce forever,
and criticised the Prince of Wales, who has recently spoken out against GM
technology, as having "power without responsibility".

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