20 March 1998

Iceland pledge GM-free food

FROZEN food retailer Iceland will be the first in the UK to guarantee that, from May, all its own-label foods are free from genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

Despite claims by many in the food industry that it is impossible to guarantee that imported soya is not from GM varieties, Icelands chief executive, Malcolm Walker, said the firm had secured suppliers, mainly in the US, that would segregate GM varieties from conventional crops. Careful auditing would provide the necessary guarantees.

"This means we can now give consumers the choice as to whether they eat food containing these ingredients or not," he said.

The firm has also called for the UK food industry, including farmers, to follow its lead and join Iceland in campaigning to get the American Soya Bean Association to introduce crop segregation.

But Bill Hamilton, head of public affairs at Safeway, said his company had helped pioneer the use of genetically modified food and did not consider Icelands stance to be "taking the lead". Mr Hamilton added: "We will be labelling all our foods containing genetically modified ingredients as we receive the second harvest this year," he said.

"Before this, processed foods containing insignificant quantities were not labelled. But now, with more use, all will be labelled."

Environmental pressure group Greenpeace, which has campaigned against genetically engineered foods for many years, was delighted with Icelands move. There was now no justification for other retailers "forcing genetically engineered soya down our throats", a spokesman said.