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)

  • John, it's a fair point which I appreciate. However, there were problems with some of the comments which didn't make sense to me.
    I have no problem if someone does not want to buy a product because they don't agree with the company's ethics but to argue that F1 Hybrid seeds are "wrong" or try to link the product itself with GM crops was, in my opinion, an attempt to stir up confusion or based on incorrect facts.
    I also have no problem with a large corporation taking over smaller seed companies, it's a legitimate way for a company to grow. What they do next and how the use those new aquisitions do of course matter though.

    As for comments such as "Most of the vegetables you buy that aren't organic are probably even worse for you than anything has been genetically modified.", well, I consider that to be complete rubbish and again, inaccurate. Organic does not mean chemicals free. I'd much rather things be out in the open and undergo rigerous testing protocols than a global movement that portrays itself (or at least allows the assumptions) as something it's not.

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  • Anonymous

    We should say NO to any products linked in anyway with the company which produced and used the chemical ORANGE in Indochina.

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  • They are also in trouble on FB because of the chickens that where due to be rehomed and that they had destroyed instead.
    Lots of people have been blocked and deleted.
    They will not give an answer to any question about it.

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  • If you believe that GM food is harmless then I suggest you search Robyn O'Brien on Youtube and check out the first clip. This woman has done much research on GM foods after one of her children suffered an allergic reaction. Her findings are astounding. JK

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  • monsanto is behaving exactly like the tobacco industry. to all those supermarkets who say their customers are not complaining, wake up, we will not go away just because you shut your eyes

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  • Anonymous

    @anonymous 19/2/12
    I have been researching this subject recently. I have to say that with all the research already carried out going back years, it proves a very dangerous effect to humans, wildlife and the environment. The scientific data actually supports the "anti-GMO " lobby but all the data was pushed aside.
    As usual, large corporations lobby policy for financial gain. Even at the cost of our health. It causes illnesses from cancer to allerges

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  • @MH 10/2/12
    No one forces growers in the UK to purchase specific seeds and if they weren't happy using them they could use others"
    In the USA, Monsanto are using every trick in the book to force out small farmers or companies that dont use their seeds. They are very rapidly gaining control of the whole food chain by patenting everything or suing a farmer who labelled his milk as having no growth hormone.( provided by Monsanto)
    They are against labelling for obvious reasons- their product wouldnt sell as well. This is a very dangerous state of affairs

    "

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  • Monsanto GM seeds and crops are dangerous. Period. The research is out there and the dots have been joined for some time now. Their monopolization of the seed production, worldwide, is a very dangerous position for all. Do your research everyone and make up your own minds, but for those who have already looked, the mutual understanding and agreement is that we CANNOT let Monsanto further into the UK.

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