Warburtons denies signing campaigners’ GM pledge

By Freddie Dawson and Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Sign of protest: anti-GM protesters lobby DEFRA yesterday April 19
Sign of protest: anti-GM protesters lobby DEFRA yesterday April 19

Related tags: Genetically modified organism

Bakery giant Warburtons has denied claims that it signed a pledge protesting about genetically modified (GM) wheat, written by pressure group GM Freeze and others.

A Warburtons’ spokeswoman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “It is not a true statement. Can you tell us more about the source of this information?”​ She confirmed that Warburtons uses no GM products.

Operating 13 bakeries with a similar number of depots, the firm employs 4,500 people and produces 2M products a day.

Manufacturers can use GM ingredients that have been approved by the European Food Safety Authority. But any GM ingredient in a product must be clearly labelled, according to the Food Standards Agency

A spokesman for GM Freeze told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “22 companies have signed the pledge, including Warburtons and the Co-op.”

The pledge, created by the Real Bread Campaign (RBC), the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ union (BFAWU) together with GM Freeze, confirmed signatories:

  • “Will not buy GM wheat or any products containing GM wheat.
  • Will not use GM wheat in our business.
  • Do not want GM wheat or the risks it brings our food chain and countryside.
  • Want the money spent on GM wheat to be used for non-GM agricultural research.”

The RBC – organised by the pressure group Sustain – delivered a letter detailing the pledge commitments to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) yesterday (April 19).

Deep concerns

A separate letter delivered to Caroline Spelman, DEFRA secretary of state, warned of “ ... deep concerns about the testing of GM wheat at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire”.

The organisers claim that the pledge has been signed by 350 bakers, millers, farmers and consumers.

Ian Hodson, BFAWU president, said: “Our members feel there are too many unknowns and risks associated with GM food.

“We believe the health and wellbeing of people should be put before profit, and people have the right to know what's in their food.”

But Dominc Dyer, chief executive of the Crop Protection Association, told FoodManufacture.co.uk that consumer attitudes to GM crops were changing – particularly among younger people.

Scientific breakthrough

“GM is still a very controversial issue but attitudes are beginning to change. The younger generations are starting to look at any scientific breakthrough that could prove beneficial,”​ he said.

Dyer described publicly-funded research at Rothamsted into GM wheat that can naturally repel aphids as“vital”. The research offered benefits, through cutting the use of pesticides, and separating GM from the commercial giants that have helped to give it a bad name, he said.

Dr Darren Hughes, head of communications at Rothamsted, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We would be pleased to provide a platform where representatives from their[Anti-GM]groups and Rothamsted could present their perspectives on this issue.

“ Our scientists will also be at hand to listen to the protestors' concerns and to discuss the trial.” 

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