25 February 1998
Soil Association challenges supermarkets to ban GM foods

By Boyd Champness

THE Soil Association – the champion of organic farmers – has urged leading supermarket chains to halt the sale of genetically modified foods by the year 2000.

Patrick Holden, association director, has called on supermarkets to commit to a policy of labelling foods that contain GM materials until they adopt the 2000 ban.

Speaking at a food safety conference in London today (Wednesday), Mr Holden said that after careful consideration the association had reached the conclusion that there was no place for the use of genetic engineering in the food and agriculture sectors of the UK.

“Consumers are alarmed at the prospect of participating in a genetic experiment without their permission and with no guarantee of a safe outcome,” he said.

“There are too many unquantifiable risks involved to justify using genetically-engineered crops, especially since farmers do not need them and they pose a serious threat to sustainable agriculture and biodiversity,” he added.

The association is challenging chief executives at Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury, Waitrose, Co-operative, Safeway, Somerfield and Marks and Spencer to send a message to their suppliers that after December 31, 1999, foods containing GM raw materials will not be sold on their shelves.

Tesco spokesman David Sawday said: “We have always said that its up to our customers to decide if they want these products or not.”

“What happens in the future is up to the customer, we have no vested interest in these products being on our shelves,” he said.

Mr Sawday said all scientific tests carried out on GM foods and raw materials so far prove that they are not harmful to humans or the environment. He said Tesco now labels products as “containing” GM foods in cases where it cannot guarantee that the product doesnt contain GM materials.

The association has also called on the Government to follow Switzerland in holding a national referendum on outlawing genetically-modified food. Early indications suggest that 58% of the Swiss population dont want GM foods.

Ironically, Switzerland is home to chemical giant Novartis – one of the worlds leading developers of GM crops.