European Supermarkets Pledge Biotech-Free Food

LONDON, UK, March 22, 1999 (ENS) - A move by European food retail chains to eliminate genetically modified (GM) ingredients and additives from their own-brand food products is of "major significance," the European Union (EU) supermarket association Eurocommerce claimed today. Fernanda Fau of Eurocommerce was speaking after last week's announcement by seven supermarket chains that they are launching a consortium to jointly source non-GM foodstuffs.

"Things are changing very fast," Fau said. "The debate on GM foods has achieved a high profile across the continent within a space of weeks. Moreover, the principle that segregation of GM ingredients is possible has now finally been accepted. We first lobbied for this two years ago and were told it was impossible."

Headed by Sainsbury of the UK, the consortium comprises retailers from six countries. "Many of our customers clearly want the possibility of choosing GM-free food," a Sainsbury spokesperson said. "We decided we could only be sure of eliminating GM derivatives by tracking some ingredients all the way from the farmer's field to the supermarket shelf and we would only get the buying power to do this by working together with supermarket chains in other European countries."


Sainsbury foods (Photo courtesy Sainsbury)
Sainsbury's environmental manager Alison Austin said the agreement would enable the supermarkets to take out direct, long-term agreements with farmers guaranteeing non-GM crops, and track them right through the production process.

Over the past 18 months, Sainsbury has reduced the number of its products with GM ingredients. It will now direct its attention to foods containing soya oil and lecithin, neither of which yield to scientific testing for the presence of GM material. The firm says it will abandon product lines containing them if it cannot either establish firmly that they are GM-free or find alternatives. It says it is also aiming to ensure that its milk and meat products are produced from animals fed on non-GM food.


Food shopping at Marks and Spencer (Photo courtesy Marks and Spencer)
Sainsbury's partners in the scheme are Marks and Spencer, also of the UK, Carrefour of France, Italy's Effelunga, Migros of Switzerland, Belgium's Delhaize and Superquinn of Ireland.

Environmental groups in the Netherlands and Germany have urged supermarkets in their countries to join the consortium or establish similar initiatives.

Meanwhile, British food retailer Iceland is achieving rising sales after its move to ban GM foods from its own-brand range according to a UK press report. The Observer newspaper reported yesterday that the company would report a nine percent sales increase this week, in part due to public enthusiasm for its stance on GM foods.

{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London.; Email:}