Waitrose hit by Facebook fury over broccoli link to biotech giant

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Waitrose has found itself in the middle of a social media storm for selling a variety of broccoli linked to biotech company Monsanto.

Bellaverde sweet stem broccoli is grown from seed sold by Monsanto subsidiary Seminis and is on sale in Waitrose for £1.99 for a 200g pack.

While the broccoli is grown using conventional breeding methods – it is not genetically modified – there have been cries of outrage from Waitrose customers about the supermarket’s decision to sell a product linked to Monsanto, which is involved in developing GM crops.

The supermarket’s Facebook page has been inundated with messages and comments from consumers, expressing their concern about Bellaverde broccoli and urging Waitrose to stop selling it. Waitrose has set up a dedicated Bellaverde broccoli thread on its site in order to deal with the sheer volume of customers’ comments.

One consumer from East Grinstead posted a letter, addressed to Waitrose MD Mark Price, warning of a “gargantuan consumer boycott” if Waitrose continued to sell the broccoli or any other product linked to Monsanto.

“Your company’s retailing of trademarked, ultimately sterile, F1 hybrid vegetables – specifically Bellaverde sweet stem broccoli – produced either by Monsanto UK Limited, Monsanto PLC, Monsanto UK Services Company, Monsanto UK Holding Company or subsidiaries thereof, is disingenuous in the extreme when presenting an ethical corporate face that professes to be anti-GM,” she wrote.

Another poster said consumers understood Bellaverde broccoli itself was not a GM food, but shoppers were “extraordinarily concerned about the obvious relationship between Waitrose and Monsanto”.

Responding to the comments, Waitrose wrote: “This broccoli is grown from conventionally bred seed sold by Seminis, who supply numerous growers, both large and small, in this country and around the world.

“While Seminis is a subsidiary of Monsanto, it uses traditional plant-breeding techniques. This is entirely in keeping with our policy of not allowing any GM ingredients in our own-label food. Conventionally-bred Bellaverde sweet stem broccoli offers excellent growing qualities to our farmers and superb flavour and value for our customers.”

The retailer told The Grocer it had no plans to stop selling Bellaverde broccoli, which has been on Waitrose shelves since 2009 [BrandView.co.uk]. The broccoli is also sold by Sainsbury’s and Ocado.

Sainsbury’s said its stance on GM foods was “unequivocal” and it did not permit the use of GM crops, ingredients, additives or derivatives in any of its own-label products. It also stressed that Bellaverde was bred using conventional methods.

Ocado said it had received no complaints from customers about Bellaverde and added it had a policy not to stock GM foods. “We always continue to reappraise customer feedback on any of the products we stock, but this is a product that is produced using conventional methods and we are happy to sell it,” a spokesman said.

Monsanto said vegetable seeds supplied to its European customers were all developed using cross pollination and selection, and not with GM techniques. This included the Bellaverde variety, the company added.

“Monsanto works closely with farmers and their retailer customers, including those with policies on plant breeding, to ensure consumers get the fresh, nutritious and tasty vegetables they demand,” Monsanto said.

Readers' comments (28)

  • Anonymous

    No wonder Europeans are going broke. They are still living in the 1950's. Gee, I wonder what percentage of their income they spend on food. Probably substantially more than those countries that have moved on into the 21st Century. There is zero scientific evidence that GM food is harmful. Zero. The Non-GM folks (The Organic Food Industry) keep looking for something (anything) to support their cause and since there is none, they continue to use boogieman scare tactics to keep folks buying over priced Non-GM food.

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  • What will happen if we are all using Monsanto seeds and they are found to be non resistant to a strain of bacteria? The world will go hungry that's what will happen. You can not erase centuries of farming culture. Take your stock out of Monsanto. People of earth will not stand for what this corporate giant is doing. Educate yourselves in the injustices of this world.

    [NB: comment edited for legal reasons]

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  • Equally there is no evidence to suggest that GM is safe as it's untested. Given the impact of food it would be rather naive and ignorant to trust a genetically modified food when there is no testing or evidence to support it's safety or otherwise, on humans or our ecosystem and it's long term impact.

    As for sustainable we waste food by the ton load, food is not in shortage, but there is inequality (much like wealth) in it's distribution.

    People have the right to choose and Monsanto would destroy all food rights with copyright to mother nature would be in their hands.

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  • @Anonymous ... And the US, grower of ~50% of the world's GM crops, is simply flush with funds ;)
    And not only zero scientific evidence of harm but zero studies on humans examining harm from commercial GM crops.

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  • It seems you haven't done your research Anonymous. There is some very recent research that indicates that GE food may certainly do harm.

    Three new studies of the health effects of GM foods have triggered new demands for GM components in human food and animal feed to be banned immediately, and have also led to accusations of criminal negligence aimed at the UK Government and European Commission.

    The first of the key studies, conducted by Russian scientist Irina Ermakova, showed that an astounding 55% of the offspring of rats fed on GM soya died within three weeks of birth, compared with only 9% in the control group (1). The second, conducted by Manuela Malatesta and colleagues in the Universities of Pavia and Urbino in Italy, showed that mice fed on GM soya experienced a slowdown in cellular metabolism and modifications to liver and pancreas (2). And the third study, conducted by CSIRO in Australia, showed that the introduction of genes from a bean variety into a GM pea led to the creation of a novel protein which caused inflammation of the lung tissue of mice (3). So serious was the damage that the research was halted, and stocks of the GM pea have been destroyed. The developers have now made a commitment that the "rogue" variety will never be marketed.

    These studies, all revealed in the scientific literature within the past few weeks, have caused widespread alarm throughout the world, since two of them suggest that GM soya (used in a large number of foods) might be very dangerous, and since they appear to confirm the findings of Dr Arpad Pusztai and Dr Stanley Ewen, whose paper on physiological changes in rats fed on GM potatoes caused a worldwide sensation in 1999 (4). The authors were given the full "shoot the messenger" treatment; they were widely vilified by the scientific community, and following an intervention from the office of Prime Minister Tony Blair Dr Pusztai was sacked, his research team was dismantled, and his funding stopped. The Ewen/Pusztai research has never been repeated, let alone extended, for fear that their results will also be replicated.

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  • This is my dream come true. I posted the original picture and now MILLIONS are aware of Monsanto's awful crimes. Get them out of the UK, they are not welcome. Thank you for listening, Waitrose. We know you will do the right thing. LOVE!!!

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  • Thank you Sue Dollimore for highlighting to Anonymous what is just the most recent research carried out on Genetically Modified food. This research continues to build on a number of others showing how sterility is a key factor in eating GM foods.

    Monsanto feel that there is no need for research to show how their GM products affect health. But be aware, there is research available and it doesn't make positive reading for human health in the long term.

    By buying from the Monsanto group of companies, even if the produce as it is in this case isn't GM, we are continuing to fund the march of GM and their control of our food. This isn't about moving " into the 21st Century" to make our foods cheaper, this is about looking after our health, a far more important issue, and one I personally don't think Monsanto have at their heart.

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  • One of the main problems with the GMO technology itself is that once the process was developed, it hasn't evolved: namely, that the foreign bits of DNA are inserted into the cell in the hope they'll be expressed - but with current technology there's no control over where the DNA ends up or how it's expressed (i.e. how often the gene is 'read' and used to make whatever it encodes). They can't currently take a gene and insert it into a precise location in the genome and control how often it gets expressed.

    Added onto which the process usually involves inserting a 'marker' gene (e.g. herbicide resistance) so they can quickly find the plants which have taken up the foreign gene sequence (i.e. treat the lot with herbicide - those that survive have evidently got the new genes).

    Even if the technology matured enough to do away with those, there's the issue of transplanting genes from completely different Kingdoms (e.g. animals, fungi) because they have the desired property - we don't know what the effects would be for the plants themselves, wildlife eating the plants, or even humans eating the plants.

    Ideally the technology should have been left at an experimental stage until they could control gene location and expression, and then only marketed plants with foreign genes from other edible plants (which couldn't be done via conventional breeding as the plants would be too distantly related; but if the plant that was the source of the desired gene was also edible, there'd probably be less resistance).

    But in the absence of the biotech firms actually doing the above, it would be helpful if they could release details of what organisms the desired genes came from and the intended functionality of the desired genes, so consumers could make an informed choice.

    Even with conventionally bred plants, don't penalise farmers who save seed to replant the following year or make the plants sterile - just make it a condition of purchase that the farmer can store seed for their own use, but can't sell it on to others (so helping the farmer while still ensuring the biotech firm recoups their investment and makes a profit).

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  • It doesn't matter if Bellaverde broccoli is conventionally grown. Supermarkets stocking it are lining the pockets of Monsanto who do not have health or wellbeing of the end consumer on their agenda. Do your own research. I won't be shopping in any supermarket who supports Monsanto or their subsidiary companies. GM food is not proven to be safe, and the risk should not be ignored. Take heed Waitrose.

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  • And as normal instead of an informed debate it breaks down into a slanging match over GM which absolutely has nothing to do with the issue at hand.

    So Waitrose are in trouble for stocking a perfectly healthy product which has no GM technology and producers are happy to grow ?

    Hybrid seeds are special in that only the first set of plants will produce the improved vigour, saving seeds will simply produce lower quality plants and yield less or not come up to quality standards required.

    No one forces growers in the UK to purchase specific seeds and if they weren't happy using them they could use others.

    With regards to saving seeds, that's not generally an argument that holds in the UK since the supply chain is usually geared up to produce high quality produce that hopefully farmers and producers get a good price for.

    In countries where subsistance farming is important and saving seed is a neccessity you'll often find seed producers do not prevent saving seed (if it's possible) if it's for personal use.

    Organic, traditional, GM and other technologies will not fix our food problems on their own. There's nothing wrong with the right balance and right technologies in the right places or consumer choice.

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