Anti-GM groups argue that the firm’s reason for the move – that there is not enough GM-free soya feed on the global market – is simply untrue.
Furthermore, because meat reared on GM feed does not need to be labelled as such, they say consumers are deprived the opportunity to make informed decisions.
Tesco has said there is no evidence that DNA from GM feed is evident in meat, eggs or milk.
In a statement, Tesco group technical officer Tim Smith said: “First, soya is the best source of protein to feed livestock [and] there simply isn’t enough non-GM feed available. It is a global supply issue – 80% of the world’s soya is now modified.
“Second, because so much soya is modified and because of the way crops are planted, processed and transported, it is possible that non-GM soya crops contain low levels of GM soya. The new DNA testing regime we have put in place has identified that the risk of finding GM material in non-GM feed is increasing,” he added.
Smith stressed that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) was clear that DNA from modified soya was not present in the meat of animals fed on it, nor in animal products such as eggs or milk.
“Genetic modification affects only the crop used in the feed,” he said. “Indeed, meat products from animals fed on GM crops have been a standard part of many supermarket ranges for some time.”
It is this last point that continues to provoke fury from campaigners.
Pete Riley, campaigns director GM Freeze – a pressure group that has members from the Soil Association and Friends of the Earth on its board – said: “Animal feed is the back door that is sustaining the GM industry. If food on supermarket shelves was properly labelled to reflect this, as consumers would rightly expect, then the story would be quite different. Consumers are being misled.”
He also claimed UK poultry farmers would not be so keen to use GM feed if the retailers paid them “a fair price”.
Swallowed the line
Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said it was wrong to say it was difficult to get non-GM feed.
“They have swallowed the line being peddled by multi-national, industrial farming companies that non-GM feed is getting scarcer. In fact, in Brazil alone, there is enough non-GM animal feed to supply the whole of Europe,” he added.
The decision comes on the back of NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond telling Food Manufacture’s Business Leaders’ forum in January that it was increasingly difficult for farmers to source non-GM food on the global market.
“And where it is, non-GM is at a £100/t premium over GM,” he added.
Likewise, US government agriculture adviser Jack Bobo said in an exclusive podcast for FoodManufacture.co.uk that GM production was vital to enhance food security, while both environment secretary Owen Paterson and Labour food and farming shadow minister Huw Irranca-Davies have indicted their support for GM production in recent months.