A chorus of voices, including the UK Government the NFU, NFU Scotland, NFU Wales, researchers and others, all insist the UK must embrace genetically engineered or genetically modified (GM) animal feed. This view is profoundly out of touch with consumer demand. yet in April 2013 many UK supermarkets abandoned their long-standing non-GM feed policies. Consumers wishing to avoid all GM in the food chain now have less information than ever before about who is using GM animal feed.
GM feed helps fuel European factory farming. Industrial meat production is the last profitable outlet in the food chain for unwanted GM crops because the meat, milk and eggs produced do not carry GM labels, so consumers can’t tell where GM was used. However it’s also true that a good deal of GM soya and maize are used to meet ill-advised biofuel targets, so merely looking at GM crop production does not give a clear picture of where GM animal feed is – or isn’t.
While former UK Secretary of State for Food Owen Paterson may claim that “there isn’t a single piece of meat” being served that hasn’t been fed GM feed, it’s not true. Any amount of GM feed comingled with an otherwise non-GM shipment means the entire quantity, and all subsequent feed bags, are labelled GM. This does not mean that feed is 100% GM, but its use is hidden from consumers. This violates our basic right to know and also interferes with the operation of the market, which requires consumers have information to make their choices. What’s more, companies the produce GM feed are remarkably reluctant to help us get the information we want about the use of their products.
The hidden use of GM feed is not proof it is needed, or even accepted. Research published by the UK Food Standards Agency and other institutions shows consumers consistently say they don’t want GM feed in the food chain and that if it is going to be used, they want labels so they can exercise their choice to avoid it. Other polls show most shoppers are unaware that imported industrial GM feed is used in European meat production. Furthermore, the sound defeat of the Nocton megadairy proposal shows the UK doesn’t want industrial animal farming. Consumers could do more to ensure they buy in ways that doesn’t merely export the damage of cheap meat to other countries, but it’s impossible without labelling which products are produced using GM feed.
The fact is that European giants like Carrefour and Campina have successful lines that specifically exclude GM feed. UK supermarket Marks & Spencer also exclude GM feed from the bulk of their meat. A reliable supply of non-GM feed is available to the companies that order it, and Brazilian non-GM certifiers say more is available. All supermarkets have to do is place the orders so farmers know what to grow.
Food & Water Europe asked all UK major grocery chains to name the lines they offer from animals fed a non-GM diet. As you can see from the chart, most are unable or unwilling to do so. Given that horsemeat contamination of European beef has heightened awareness of the length of current supply chains, and the difficulty in policing quality amid such complexity, this needs to change.
Supermarkets can and should give us what we want:
1) Supermarkets should move to non-GM animal feed as swiftly as possible to meet consumer demand.
2) While they are making this change supermarkets should clearly label their products (including meat, milk and dairy) from animals fed non-GM feed, so we can avoid supporting the GM industry when we shop for our families.
3) Politicians should honour their commitments to give UK consumers the labels they want and need to find and avoid all GM in the food chain.