Chickens and eggs sold at Tesco may come from birds fed on genetically modified (GM) soya, the supermarket conceded, as it withdrew its “no-GM” guarantee.
The retailer said that new farming methods meant it could no longer promise that its birds had a diet free of GM material, as it lifted its own 11-year ban on such products.
The announcement spells the end of an ethical-shopping initiative dating back more than a decade.
The retailer said that the global surge of GM soya and changing agricultural techniques meant that it could no longer offer an ethical guarantee to its shoppers. It said new DNA testing had “identified that the risk of finding GM material in non-GM food is increasing”.
A statement issued by Tim J Smith, Tesco’s group technical director, said: “We could not continue with a promise we cannot be sure it is possible to keep and we wanted to be upfront about the changes we are making.”
The original controls, which applied to Tesco own-label poultry and eggs, were put in place in order to reflect the concerns of shoppers who question the impact of GM crops on human health and the countryside.
But the move reflects a wider shift in farming methods and a global surge of GM soya being imported into the EU. Asda and Morrisons already allow GM feed for poultry products.
The bad weather of 2012 has turned many British farmers on to GM crops, with calls from farming leaders to start using the technology as a way of reducing costs and limiting wastage in bad seasons.
Environmental campaigners reacted angrily last night. Peter Melchett, of the Soil Association, said: “Tesco are wrong about this – they have swallowed the line being peddled by pro-GM, multinational, industrial farming companies. In Brazil alone, there is enough non-GM animal feed to supply the whole of Europe. The quantity of non-GM imported feed into Europe is going up year on year, because supermarkets in countries like France and Germany are avoiding GM feed.”
The statement added: “This does not mean that the poultry and eggs we sell will be genetically modified in any way, just an ingredient in the feed which they eat. The meat from a chicken fed on modified soya feed is no different to the meat of a chicken fed on non-GM feed.”