Supermarkets clash over soya labelling proposals

A row is brewing between Tesco and Asda over the latter’s plans to label food that could contain genetically modified (GM) soya.

GM soya, mixed with unmodified soya, was first imported from the US last year to be used in a wide variety of foodstuffs.

Its arrival sparked protests from environmentalists concerned about the introduction of unlabelled genetically modified material into the food chain. In May this year, the European Commission said all food that contained genetically modified material must be clearly labelled as such.

Now Tesco corporate affairs manager David Sawday has criticised Asda’s plans for using labels on its own-label products stating that certain products “may or may not” contain GM soya. Tesco’s policy is not to label products that may contain GM soya, though it does provide leaflets explaining that the product may contain GM soya and says this complies with Institute of Grocery Distribution guidelines.

Tesco says Asda’s policy goes against a decision taken by the IGD, of which Asda is a member, in March 1997 to promote GM soya in a way helpful to consumers rather than producers. The IGD refuses to comment on Asda’s proposed labelling policy and says it is reviewing its own guidelines and will announce its recommendations shortly.

Sawday describes Asda’s proposal as irresponsible and says it risks scuppering the launch of further food science developments by scaring off the consumer.

“If innovation is handled badly consumers will be put off,” he says, citing the irradiated food scare.

Asda announced its decision to change the labelling on 3,000 of its own-label products two weeks ago, following predictions that the proportion of GM soya in the US crop is likely to rise from two per cent to 15 per cent in the autumn.

An Asda spokeswoman says the exact wording has yet to be decided: “We are working with the IGD, which will be recommending a form of wording that can be used across the industry.”

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