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.