23rd April 2013
Campaign groups today welcomed news from Brazil that China plans to source non-GM soya for customers that want it (1). The organisations highlighted the contrast with Tesco's announcement on 11th April that it would be allowing its suppliers to use Monsanto's GM soya as feed in production of poultry and eggs.
"The Chinese government appears to be more sensitive to public opinion than Tesco's is in Britain" said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK, "In the age of austerity, putting the customer first has been replaced by a policy that beggars can't be choosers".
"At a time when Europeans are increasingly able to buy labelled non-GM fed products and US shoppers are demanding GM labels in dozens of states, arguments from UK supermarkets that they 'can't get' non-GM soya fly in the face of reality. Order more non-GM and growers will supply this lucrative market. If the UK market is being interfered with by vested interests, we'll find out and tell shoppers. How will Tesco and friends explain that away?" said Eve Mitchell, EU Food Policy Advisor, Food and Water Europe.
Helena Paul of EcoNexus said: "This is an opportunity for UK supermarkets to help to address the many social and environmental problems caused by GM animal feed. Instead of just rolling over and accepting it, they should speak out concertedly and insist on GM free supplies".
"Waitrose, China and Carrefour all show it can be done: why won't the other supermarkets stand up for their customers?" said Jonathan Matthews of GM Watch.
The organisations also criticised the Co-Op and Marks and Spencer, which followed Tesco's announcement by immediately adopting the same policy, despite a reputation for previously adopting more ethical policies. Asda and Morrisons have previously dropped the requirement for non-GM feed in their poultry and eggs and Sainsbury has now restricted non-GM to a single line of products. However, Waitrose has maintained its non-GM policy and supermarkets in other countries, such as Carrefour in France, are now sourcing and labelling meat and dairy products that are non-GM-fed.
GM soya has been genetically engineered by Monsanto to be tolerant to its own-brand weedkiller RoundUp. The practice of blanket spraying of these GM crops with RoundUp has led to widespread problems in North and South America with "superweeds" which become resistant to the herbicide (2). Doctors in towns near monocultures of GM soya in Argentina have reported many health problems among inhabitants in the years since GM soya was first planted, believed to be due to blanket spraying (3). Government statistics also show that thousands have left their farms for city slums under pressure, which can often be violent, from GM soya producers (4). Recent research suggests GM crops may also be to blame for the decline in Monarch butterflies in the USA (5). The industry's response to GM superweeds is to produce crops which are resistant to more toxic herbicides such as 2,4,D- and dicamba. Once these crops enter the market, public concern about pesticide residues due to blanket spraying is likely to increase (6).
Non-GM-soya importer ABRANGE has said British supermarkets may have been misled about supplies and plenty of non-GM soya is available (5). Research by the Food Standards Agency has shown customers want all products from animals fed on GM-soya to be clearly labelled.
For further information contact:
Dr Helen Wallace, GeneWatch UK: 01298-24300 (office); 07903-311584 (mobile).
Helena Paul, EcoNexus: 0207 431 4357 (office).
Eve Mitchell, Food and Water Europe: +44 (0)1381 610 740.
Jonathan Matthews, GM Watch: +44 (0)1603 624021.
Claire Robinson, Earth Open Source: +44 (0)752 753 6923.
Natasha Collins-Daniel, Soil Association. T: 0117 914 2448. M: 07827 925380. E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes for Editors:
(1) China Changes for the Future. Agro Debate. 19th April 2013 [in Portuguese]. On: http://www.agrodebate.com.br/_conteudo/2013/04/colunistas/glauber_silveira/7756-china-mudancas-para-o-futuro.html Unofficial translation of selected passages: "Another point that stands out is related to GMOs. There was clear corporate interest in conventional soybeans. When asked what the market trend in the relationship between GM and non-GM crops, the large mass is less sensitive to it, or buy the cheapest. However, a significant proportion of the Chinese population, with better financial conditions, want to be careful and have a preference for non-GM products.
All importers from Brazil who spoke expressed interest in creating a specific market of conventional soybeans, even if they have to pay more. We questioned the possibility of providing short-term volume exceeding 10 million tons of soy. This draws our attention and can influence the whole market, after all, our producers will plant what consumers demand.
There is a change in trend regarding Chinese imports and security of food supply - there is also a tendency of having space for non-GM soya and GM. This for us is producing very positive it allows us to handle both technologies. However, it is clear that we have an urgent homework with regard to infrastructure.
It was clear here the concern of the Chinese government with the desire of the population, and contrary to what one may think, even though communist government is very sensitive to what people think and want, ultimately they are 1.4 billion people. For Brazilians it is a good sign. Improving the quality of life of the Chinese reflects directly on food imports from Brazil".
(2) BBC Superweeds pose GM-resistant challenge for farmers. 19th September 2012. On: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19594335
(5) Tracking the causes of monarch butterfly decline. Guardian Environmental Network. 18th April 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/apr/18/tracking-causes-monarch-butterfly-decline
(6) 'Superweeds' Revive an Old, Highly Toxic Herbicide. Mother Jones. 19th October 2011. http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2011/10/superweeds-revive-old-highly-toxic-herbicide
(7) Supermarkets 'misled' on GM soya claims. Farmers Weekly. 17th April 2013. http://www.fwi.co.uk/articles/17/04/2013/138662/supermarkets-39misled39-on-gm-soya-claims.htm