Tesco isolated over policy on GM foods

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT'S most senior scientific adviser on genetically modified foods warned yesterday that there could be a world food disaster if the products did not exist.

Professor Janet Bainbridge, chair of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, told MPs that the public needed GM foods and a moratorium on their release would achieve nothing.

Prof Bainbridge's defence of GM foods came as Sainsbury's became the latest supermarket chain to announce a ban on GM ingredients in its own- brand groceries.

Following similar moves by Marks and Spencer and Iceland, Sainsbury's decision means that only Tesco has no plans to phase out the products.

In evidence to the Commons Science and Technology Committee, Prof Bainbridge also said that debate over GM foods had "been and gone".

"Imposition of a ban on the cultivation or sale of GM foods would achieve nothing except jeopardise the competitiveness of UK industry," she said.

Her comments were echoed by the Government's chief adviser on GM crops, who told MPs that his committee should stick to science and leave ethics to Parliament.

Professor John Beringer, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment, said that it was becoming indefensible to regulate crops purely because they were genetically modified.

"The Americans are not stupid, and we should... examine why there is such a different attitude to GMOs on their side of the Atlantic," he said.

"At worst I believe that GM crops will only add to existing problems of intensification in agriculture and at best they will greatly enhance our ability to solve problems."

Although nine of the 10 biggest supermarkets are looking into the possibility of replacing GM products, Tesco does not plan to replace the 150 of its 20,000 own-label products which contain genetically modified soya and maize.

The company, which has more than 15 per cent of the pounds 90bn UK grocery market, says that its customers want honesty and clear product labelling.

A Tesco spokesman explained: "To go completely GM-free is a very significant move and we don't want to give our customers false hopes."

Safeway, the fourth biggest supermarket, is gradually phasing out GM ingredients. It said yesterday: "Safeway's position on GM soya and maize is that they fail to offer any tangible benefits to our customers."

This frank statement raised eyebrows as next month Safeway's public affairs manager, Tony Coombes, will become director of public affairs at Monsanto, the world's biggest promoter of GM food.

Prof Beringer claimed that his committee's secretariat was far too small, with just nine staff to cover all UK, EU and international regulations.

He also warned that poor publicity for the committee, together with a failure to pay its members, had made it difficult to attract top-grade scientists.


Own brands

with GM






What they say

Other GM brands



Friends of The Earth verdict


150 out of 20,000

Black bean sauce, vegetable soup, chicken and veg pie

No plans to eliminate GM ingredients

`Customers have told us they want honest and clear labelling and that's where we're concentrating our efforts'

Not known how many

No policy

Market leader now left chasing the field


40-50 out of 1,500

Tomato puree, chicken and ham pate, dog food

Own brands GM free by end of summer

`We are giving shoppers what they want'

Unable to say

Up to the brands

Delighted at policy change


39 out of 4,000

Chicken tikka sandwich, cream scones, chilli con carne

GM free within the next three months

`We`ve got an open mind on GM products, but our customers are concerned and we listen to our customers'

Not known

Brands expected to label GM produts

Walking in the right direction


150 out of 9,000

Chicken Kiev, cheese and tomato pizza, potato wedges

Gradually phasing out GM ingredients

`We feel GM soya and maize fail to offer any tangible benefits to our customers'

Total not known

Brands to comply with Govt policy

Pleased at turnaround



150 out of 4,000 (Som) and 400 (KS)

Sausage rolls, leek and potato soup, liver sausage

Asking suppliers wherever possible to use non-GM ingredients. Otherwise label clearly

`It's consumer choice. Our first priority is to our customers, and they expect to see it'

Not known how many

Expect brands to comply with the law on labelling

If it's customers top priority, they must go GM-free quicker


100 out jof 3,000

Turkey and coleslaw sandwich, pancakes, Chinese takeaway box

GM-free in three months time

`Customers have told us they feel GM food is being rushed through too quickly and they are uncomfortable with it'

None, all food they sell is own brand

Not applicable

Very pleased with change of heart



Not able to say

Chicken burgers, Hollandaise sauce, Yorkshire pudding mix

Examining feasibility of replacing products

`We are aware that some customers may have reservations about genetic modification'

Not able to say

Company owning the brand is responsible

Lagging behind and need to catch up


4 out of 8,127

Japanese soy sauce, Teriyaki, crispy crunch cake

GM-free by end of March

`It's customer preference'

Not known how many

Want full information on all products