Morrisons’ rearguard decision to allow its farmers to use GM feed looks spectacularly ill-informed and dumb, when Carrefour labels own-label meat and dairy products as GM animal feed-free, or ‘Nourri sans OGM’. If the world’s second largest retailer can guarantee customers the field-to-fork GM-free food they clearly and consistently demand, then Morrisons can too.
Morrisons misguided policy brings it into line with Asda. As the UK base for Wal-Mart, there’s no surprise that it backs GM, since the US is home to Big Biotech, renowned for its dogged efforts to force GM down the global gullet.
Morrisons lazily trots out the Monsanto/Cargill line that GM-free animal feed is hard to source, but as Carrefour’s policy shows, this is nonsense. Ricardo de Sousa, boss of the Brazilian Association of non-GM producers, was in the UK recently, reporting that a quarter of Brazilian soya growing land is now cultivated within the ‘soja livre’ (GM-free) scheme.
What’s more, Brazilian growers are finding that non-GM soya cultivars are more profitable than the GM equivalent. Why? They deliver higher yields, farmers are not obliged to pay royalties, and less pesticide is needed to grow them. Indeed Brazilian supermarkets are sprouting ‘Nao Trangenico’ (No GM) aisles.
The truth is that GM now looks like an old hat technology that never really caught on. It is being superseded by marker assisted selection (non-GM genetic mapping), which is widely expected to boost yields more effectively than GM, and without the associated risks.
Talking of risks, Asda and Morrisons can expect their customers to desert in droves to more switched-on rivals when the inevitable food scare around GM feed hits the headlines. Twelve independent research studies on GM have now raised animal health issues with theoretical consequences for humans. Lesions in stomachs of Danish pigs fed GM is just the latest health concern.
Ultimately, progressive retailers need to go further than giving customers a GM feed-free guarantee and actively encourage farmers to feed their animals on alternative UK-grown crops, such as high protein peas, field beans and lupin, and rear more farm animals on grass. To build up Britain’s food security, we need to cut our risky dependence on imported soya and move to sustainable home-grown alternatives.
First published in The Grocer 5th May 2012.