Friday, August 26, 2005

British Retailers Call for Tough Stand on GM Soya

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is calling on the Brazilian soya industry to "resist further growth of GM planting" because "it will be enormously difficult to maintain trust in the food chain should Brazil's supply of non-GM soybean dry up." The call has been welcomed by an alliance of leading UK organisations [1] which are urging supermarkets and other food companies to take immediate action to safeguard GM-free food.

The BRC statement [2], released to the alliance this week, comes as crucial decisions are being made by Brazilian farmers about whether to plant GM or non-GM soya for next season's crop. It represents a strong re-affirmation that the UK retail industry wants to continue to provide GM-free products to UK consumers.

The statement also underlines the importance of Brazilian soya production in ensuring a future for GM-free food in the UK. The BRC says it is "essential that Brazil remains a continued source of non-GM soybean and halts the progression at the current level of 35% GM"

The BRC position is backed by reference to public attitudes in the UK [3]: 79% would not knowingly buy food containing GM ingredients."

Although all the major UK food companies continue to shun GM ingredients in their food, vast quantifies of GM soya for animal feed are still being imported. Animal products, like milk, meat and eggs, are not subject to GM labelling regulations. The alliance has written to food companies demanding urgent action to ensure that all soya used in animal feed should be GM-free [4].

The call follows a series of meetings in 2004/05 between the alliance and food industry representatives.

If companies fail to place firm orders for non-GM soya for animal feed, this could lead to other GM-free ingredients, such as soya oil and lecithin, becoming scarce. These ingredients are a by-product of the soya beans crushed for animal feed and are found in a host of processed foods from chocolate and biscuits to processed ready meals.

The letter from the alliance sets out the need for urgent action:

"Food retailers and manufacturers need to inform their suppliers that they are specifying non-GM animal feed as soon as possible, and before the beginning of the soya planting season in October 2005. In our view, failure to do so will have a rapid and direct negative impact on the availability of non-GM derivatives in future".

In addition, the letter calls upon the UK food industry to proactively seek alternatives to soya for feeding animals because it "is not environmentally or socially sustainable".

Commenting on behalf of the alliance, Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

We warmly welcome this re-affirmation of GM free policy from British retailers. It comes at a crucial time when Brazilian farmers are considering whether to grow GM or non-GM soya beans next year. It is important that the BRC ensures that its message is heard loud and clear in Brazil - by farmers and other players along the soya supply chain.

"But some UK food companies have clearly been resting on their laurels and have failed to phase out GM animal feed with any great urgency. It is high time that they backed the BRC statement with firm orders for GM-free soya for animal feed across their whole range. This would provide customers with milk, meat and eggs from animals that are not fed on GM feed. If food companies act now, the costs of such action can be kept to a minimum and they will help guarantee GM-free food for the future.

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