A leading anti-gun campaigner yesterday urged consumers not to shop at Asda stores because of Wal-Mart's position as the biggest retailer of firearms in the US.
The green lobby has also warned that it will be monitoring Asda carefully to ensure that when it starts selling Wal-Mart branded foods, these do not contain genetically modified ingredients or come from animals reared using GM feed.
The concern over Wal-Mart's sale of guns has been heightened by the recent spate of shootings in the US. Last week three children were shot and injured after a gunman burst into a Jewish community centre in Los Angeles spraying gunfire indiscriminately. President Bill Clinton condemned the shooting as "another senseless act of gun violence".
Last month a man went on a murderous rampage in Atlanta, shooting nine people to death and killing his wife and two children after running up heavy losses day trading.
Britain banned the sale of handguns in the wake of the Dunblane massacre in March 1996, when 16 primary-school children and a teacher were killed. But Gill Marshall-Andrews, chairwoman of the Gun Control Network, which was set up after Dunblane, said: "I would not shop in Asda and I would not recommend that anyone else did either. One has to wonder whether we might be clasping a viper to our bosom by allowing Wal-Mart into this country. Do we really want a company with such doubtful corporate ethics to set up shop on our high streets?
"I think that the British public would be shocked to realise that the same company is making big profits by selling guns over supermarket counters in America and contributing so overtly to the gun-culture that is poisoning that society. We don't want the same thing to be happening over here in 10 years' time."
There are some 230 million guns in circulation in the US and some consumers there boycott Wal-Mart precisely because it is America's number one seller of guns. Mrs Marshall-Andrews said the Gun Control Network had not decided whether to call for a similar boycott of Asda stores.
Wal-Mart is the biggest retailer in the world with sales last year of $138bn and profits of $8.1bn. It has almost 2,500 stores in the US alone. The company sells guns over the counter, but in special sporting sections. Firearms sales are subject to individual state laws. Wal-Mart does not break down what proportion of its sales and profits come from gun sales.
All Britain's large supermarket groups, Asda among them, have stopped selling own-brand goods containing GM ingredients. However, Greenpeace, the environmental lobby group, is investigating Wal-Mart's stance on GM foods and how this might affect Asda. "If Wal-Mart were to start selling their own brand through Asda, and these were found to contain GM ingredients, it would make them a very logical target for consumer concern," a spokesman added.
An Asda spokesman said: "We can be absolutely clear on the issue of GM foods: they have been phased out of all of Asda's own-brand products in response to public concerns, and there are no plans to re-introduce them. Asda management will for the time being remain as it is, maintaining the same policies on issues like GM foods. There are no plans to sell any sort of firearms in Asda stores."