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Brazilian exporters 'puzzled' by UK supermarket GM claims

Tuesday 16 April 2013


Towards the end of last week, supermarkets Tesco, Sainsbury's, The Cooperative and Marks and Spencer all abandoned requirements stipulating that their poultry suppliers use only feed free from genetically modified grains.


The retailers joined Asda and Morrisons, which dropped their ethical feed commitments in 2010 and 2012 respectively, leaving Waitrose as the UK's only major retailer with a commitment to sourcing eggs and poultry from birds that have not been fed on a diet containing GM material. Waitrose said it currently has no plans to scrap its own commitments.


UK supermarkets brought in the guarantees over a decade ago, when public concern over GM was tangible.  In response to last week's mass migration away from GM-free feed policies, GM-sceptics have pointed to powerful poultry industry groups, who have been lobbying retailers to abandon their feed policies in recent months.


In February, the NFU, British Poultry Council and British Egg Industry Council upped their efforts to see feed policies abandoned by British supermarkets. A number of environment and sustainable farming groups in the UK responded in a joint letter to the British Retail Consortium; they pointed out that eggs and poultry meat from hens fed on GM soy would not have to be labelled, and argued that this would represent an ill-advised move away from transparency and go against the public interest, especially in light of the 'horsemeat' scandal and results of an FSA study published the previous month.


The FSA found that almost 70 percent of people questioned wanted GM labelling laws extended to include products from animals fed on a diet containing GM material. In mainland Europe, especially France and Germany, where Carrefour has recently adopted just such an approach, supermarkets are expanding their labelling and making commitments to sourcing non-GM feed.


In their joint letter in February, the UK green groups explained, "We believe, particularly in the wake of the scandal about unlabelled and unlisted ingredients in beef burgers, that this would be a very serious mistake, further undermining public trust in animal products sold by British supermarkets." Sure enough, a poll conducted last week by food industry magazine The Grocer revealed woefully low levels of trust in the integrity of supermarkets amongst the British public.

Brazilian feed producers question supermarket claims


On Friday, Soil Association Policy Director Peter Melchett disputed claims made by three of the four supermarkets that their shift in policy was in response to a shortage of GM-free grain. He said, "M&S, Co-Op and Tesco are misleading their customers by claiming that non-GM feed isn't available. They are wrong. In Brazil alone, there is enough non-GM animal feed to supply the whole of Europe."


Even so, The Cooperative's Public Relations Manager told Farming Online, "It is becoming increasingly difficult to secure a continuous and guaranteed supply of non-GM soya for animal feed, and the move on poultry and eggs has been made with immediate effect because of the current supply issues which, in the case of our egg supplier, has been exacerbated by delays in the transportation of certified non-GM soya from Brazil."  


Earlier this week, the heads of Abrange, the Brazilian association of Non-GMO grain producers said in a statement that they were "puzzled by four United Kingdom retailers' decision to switch from Non-GMO to GMO soy for the reason of lack of supply and concerns expressed about product integrity."


In a joint statement, Abrange president Cesar Borges de Sousa and executive director Ricardo Tatesuzi de Sousa said the association is responsible for the import of over 5 million tonnes of Non-GM soy and soy derivatives into Europe each year. They acknowledged that one major supplier of non-GM soy had ceased trading, due to concerns with future supply, and that dramatic increases in export demand from Brazil has created congestion at ports, but said this has resulted in delays for all commodities, not just GM-free soy.  


The Pair added, "Considering national affiliations, this change could well have as much to do with interest in opening the UK to imports of GM soy from the USA than to the temporary slow-down in Brazil."


The Abrange officials said Brazil has enjoyed "a record soybean harvest of over 82 million metric tons, bigger than the United States' and definitely large enough to more than provide Europe's entire soy meal demand." Although the vast majority of the harvest is of GM crops, non-GM soy is estimated to account for 25 percent of the current national crop.


Borges de Sousa and Tatesuzi de Sousa said, "A recent poll by the FSA indicated that 67 percent of UK citizens prefer milk, eggs, poultry and meat produced with non-GMO feed. In light of this, it is surprising that UK retailers have used the current, temporary shipping slowdown, and the consequent temporary increase in the cost of all soy (GM and Non-GM) as the basis for shifting to GM soy for animal feed.


"Certainly, mainland European retailers are responding to these consumer preferences by signalling a strong commitment to Non-GMO animal feed and by making strenuous efforts to even expand the Non-GMO soy supply chain."


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