Morrisons is “moving in the wrong direction” and “making a big mistake” after authorising the use of GM feed by its poultry farmers for the first time in a bid to alleviate soaring input costs, according to the anti-GM lobby.

Morrisons said it would allow poultry farmers supplying both meat and eggs to use GM feed, after the cost of non-GM feed increased by 25% in the past two years [Defra].

“This policy will be increasingly difficult and costly to maintain as the availability of non-GM protein (soy) decreases,” said a spokesman.

And the NFU welcomed Morrisons’ move. “There is no doubt this will help poultry producers meet social and environmental commitments while producing safe, affordable protein,” said chief poultry adviser Kelly Watson.

But Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said Morrisons was risking its reputation with consumers. “They’re moving in the wrong direction from a reputational point of view. Sooner or later customers will tell Morrisons they want to buy their poultry elsewhere.

“It also goes against the grain in the rest of Europe,” Melchett added.

And GM Freeze campaign director Pete Riley said Morrisons was “making a big mistake”, citing a Which? survey - presented at the Oxford Farming Conference - that found 70% of consumers felt it was important for retailers to have policies barring GM ingredients in animal feed.

Supermarkets introduced a unilateral ban on poultry feed in 2001 following a consumer backlash against GM crops - while continuing to allow GM feed for other livestock. The u-turn by Morrisons, following a similar decision by Asda in September 2010, suggests that supermarkets are starting to test consumer attitudes to GM in the wake of soaring inflation.

Research by the British Science Association, published earlier this month, indicated that 25% of Britons are not concerned by GM foods, compared with 17% in 2003.

Tesco told The Grocer all its fresh and frozen poultry as well as own-brand organic meat would continue to be fed non-GM feed. And Sainsbury’s confirmed its chicken, turkey and duck were all non-GM fed.

However, Sainsbury’s added it was aware of the increasing pressure on the availability of non-GM food crops. “We continue to keep the situation under regular review to ensure continuity of supply.”