Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and The Co-operative Group will begin allowing their suppliers to use GM feed for poultry, they said today.
The news follows Tesco’s announcement last night that it would allow the use of GM feed by its poultry and eggs farmers. The supermarket said it, in turn, was following the example of Asda and Morrisons, which changed their policies in 2010 and 2012 respectively.
It means that Waitrose is the only major retailer to maintain its non-GM stance on feed for poultry and eggs.
Sainsbury’s said it had become increasingly difficult to source guaranteed non-GM feed in the short term following an industry-wide availability issue.
From Monday, the fresh chicken sold in its ‘By Sainsbury’s’ and basics ranges would be from “birds that have been fed a feed which we cannot guarantee to be GM free”, said a spokeswoman. Its Taste the Difference and So Organic ranges would continue to be fed a non-GM diet, however.
“We have taken this decision in the obvious interests of animal welfare given the limited amount of other feed available at this time,” the spokeswoman said.
On eggs, the situation was less immediate; from mid-May, Sainsbury’s said it anticipated being in the same position but would ensure hens producing eggs for its Taste the Difference, Omega-3 and So Organic ranges would continue to be fed a non-GM diet.
Earlier today, Marks & Spencer also said it would allow the use of GM feed across its meat supply chain.
It wrote to its suppliers today to make them aware that it no longer required them to use non-GM feed. “Alongside other retailers, we have written to our suppliers today to tell them that we will no longer stipulate the use of non-GM feed in our fresh meat supply chain,” a spokeswoman said.
The spokeswoman said the change in policy was “absolutely necessary” because there was now a much-reduced supply of non-GM feed available to UK farmers. “As such we can now no longer guarantee that our fresh meat has been fed on a non-GM diet,” she added.
“We can assure customers that this will not affect the quality or provenance of the food that they buy from M&S, which will continue to be produced to the high standards that are expected from us. Our commitment to only using non-GM food ingredients remains unchanged,” the spokeswoman added.
This morning, the Co-op confirmed it can no longer guarantee its own-brand chicken and turkey has been fed a non-GM diet.
The Co-op had been working with suppliers to maintain a non-GM feed position for as long as possible but that position was becoming “increasingly untenable”, a spokeswoman for the retailer said. “Our own-brand chicken and turkey supplier has informed us that they are no longer able to guarantee that the animal feed they are using is non-GM.”
The group had looked at alternative ways to source non-GM feed, but the limited availability of guaranteed non-GM feed supplies, and the potential increased costs to farmers and customers, meant that was not feasible, she added.
The Co-op’s shell egg supplier has also informed it of the difficulties it is having in maintaining supply of non-GM soya, although it is continuing to look at ways to resolve the issue.
Meanwhile, the National Farmers Union has welcomed Tesco’s change in policy.
The poultry industry had been struggling to secure supplies of non-GM soya as Brazilian farmers moved to more sustainable GM alternatives, said Kelly Watson, NFU chief poultry adviser. “Tesco should be congratulated for taking this proactive approach and being open with its customers.”
She added that GM crops were highly regulated for health and environmental safety and had been used to feed other livestock destined for the retail supply chain around the world for the last 15 years, during which time no ill effects have been reported or robustly reflected in peer-reviewed research.
A poll conducted for The Grocer revealed today that less than 4% of people trusted retailers to tell the truth about the use of GM technology.