British retailers are ordering their own-label suppliers to boycott American soya containing genetically-engineered beans after a row over labelling.
A wide tranche of food, ranging from bread, cakes and confectionery to soup and biscuits, as well as meat-alternative products such as vegetarian burgers, contains soya.
Retailers, including Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s and Somerfield, are concerned that because the genetically-modified soya has not been separated from the traditional crop, they will not be able to label their products adequately unless they insist on the blanket ban.
John Morris, food and drink executive for the British Retail Consortium, says: “We are not against biotechnology, but we are committed to open labelling.”
He says genetically-engineered tomatoes, sold in Safeway and Sainsbury’s, are labelled to allow shoppers to make an informed choice between “artificial” and traditional tomatoes.
Industry sources say retailers are anxious to be able to trace all food ingredients in the wake of the BSE crisis, and want to appear “whiter than white”, although there is no evidence of any health risks associated with the modified soya beans.
The Food and Drink Federation, which represents manufacturers, takes an opposing view to the BRC.
Lynn Insall, executive in the scientific and technological division of the FDF, says: “Segregation of genetically-engineered beans and traditional soya is neither scientifically necessary nor practicable.”
She says the price of traditional soya crops, as demanded by the retailers, is bound to rise, which could mean more expensive food.