Field of soya plants

High-end retailer Waitrose is introducing non-GM European soya into its pig rations as part of an ongoing policy to reduce reliance on South American supplies.

The supermarket has worked in partnership with its dedicated pork supplier, Dalehead Foods, to start the transition, with the first shipment from the Black Sea region having landed in October.

The move marks the start of the retailer’s plans to switch to a more sustainable source of soya beans, amid concerns about the effects of deforestation associated with soya production in South America.

See also: Arla launches milk premium for GM-free feed

It is also worried that, as demand for soya grows in other parts of the world, an overdependence on South American raw materials could undermine security of supply.

“Ultimately, this is about improving sustainability, not replacing GM soya,” said a spokeswoman.

The majority of Waitrose’s other supply chains – including own-label eggs, chicken, turkey, New Zealand lamb and farmed fish – are fed diets that do not contain GM protein.

“We have also removed all soya from the diets of our conventional milk supply chain and have plans in place to do the same in our lamb and beef supply chains,” the spokeswoman added.

Major blow

Despite Waitrose’s insistence that it is motivated by the desire to improve sustainability, rather than to remove GM material from its pig supply chain, organic body the Soil Association described the move as “the biggest blow against GM crops this century”.

It marked “the beginning of the end of the last large-scale use of GM crops in the UK”, it suggested.

“GM soya from Latin America is linked to rainforest destruction, so sourcing non-GM soya from the Danube region and using more UK-grown protein crops is good for the climate, good for UK farmers and good for consumers,” said policy director Peter Melchett.

Strategic approach

Addressing a meeting of farmers producing for Waitrose this week, Waitrose managing director Rob Collins said the move towards European soya was the result of three years’ work by the agriculture team.

“It fits perfectly into our strategy to improve our supply chain security by sourcing animal feed from raw materials grown at home, or within the UK and Europe.”

In securing European soya, Waitrose has worked closely with the Danube Soya Producers Association – a group made up of soya growers, millers and end users.

Latest statistics show that, in 2016, European soya production reached 8.6m tonnes from 3.9m ha, most of it from Ukraine.