By Mike Urch, SeafoodSource contributing editor
Published on 23 May, 2013
Last month three U.K. supermarkets admitted publicly that it was impossible to guarantee that the feed fed to the poultry and fresh meat they sell did not contain genetically modified (GM) soya meal.
Tesco, the U.K.’s No. 1 and one of the world’s biggest supermarkets, had always guaranteed that its own-label fresh and frozen poultry and eggs were only fed non-GM feed. However, Tesco group technical director, Tim Smith, said the company was dropping this pledge. “We could not continue with a promise we cannot be sure it is possible to keep.”
For some time, U.K. poultry and egg suppliers had been telling retailers that it was increasingly difficult for them to guarantee that the feed they used was entirely GM free.
There is not enough non-GM feed available – 80 percent of the world’s supply is now modified, according to Smith.
“Because so much soya is modified, and because of the way crops are planted, processed and transported, it is possible that non-GM soya crops contain low levels of GM soya,” said Smith.
Smith pointed out that Tesco was not the only British supermarket to come to this decision.
“Asda and Morrisons [two of the U.K.’s top four supermarket chains] already allow GM feed for poultry products, and our suppliers also work with other U.K. retailers.”
In fact, on the same day that Tesco made its statement, the Co-operative Food Group said it had been working with suppliers to maintain non-GM feed “for as long as practically possible, but this position is now becoming untenable. 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, so we are no longer able to guarantee to you that these animals have not been fed a non-GM diet.
“We’ve looked for alternative ways to source non-GM feed, but the limited supplies of guaranteed non-GM feed available, and the increased costs to farmers and customers means this isn’t feasible.”
Marks and Spencer was the third supermarket to say that it had “written to our suppliers to tell them that we will no longer stipulate the use of non-GM feed in our fresh meat supply chain.”
It could be assumed that the feed fed to farmed fish would follow this route. However, feed suppliers earlier this year accused supermarkets of not playing fair and still demanded that fish feed contain non-GM soya “even though they accept other animal proteins such as poultry, pig and beef fed with GM soya!”
Of course feeding animals GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) doesn’t mean that the animals themselves will be genetically modified.
“The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is clear that functioning GM DNA from modified soya is not present in the meat of animals fed on it, nor in animal products such as eggs or milk. Genetic modification affects only the crop used in the feed,” said Smith.
“And the FSA is also clear that there is absolutely no risk to health from eating meat from animals that have been fed GM feed. Indeed, meat products from animals fed on GM crops have been a standard part of many supermarket ranges for some time.”
No reaction to the Tesco and Marks and Spencer statements has been published, but reaction to the Co-operative Food statement has been damning with consumers saying they would take their custom elsewhere. (Although where they would take their custom to given the stance of the other supermarkets is uncertain.)
However, there is still one way that consumers can be certain the animal products they buy have not been fed GM ingredients, and this is to purchase organic products. And this could boost sales of these products even though prices might be higher than for standard items.