THE Co-operative Group has defended its stance on genetically modified food after a survey by Greenpeace revealed that most UK food retailers, including the Co-op, cannot guarantee that animal feed used to produce own-brand meat, fish and dairy products does not contain GM crops.
In a league table of British supermarkets compiled by Greenpeace to illustrate retailers' commitment to supplying own brand non-GM fed beef, pork, chicken, lamb, eggs, fish and dairy products, the Co-op comes second only to Marks & Spencer, with Tesco, Iceland and Morrisons the worst offenders in the GM stakes.
The survey shows that while the animals involved in the production of Co-op brand pork, chicken and eggs are guaranteed not have been fed GM produce, the Co-operative Group has been unable to offer similar assurances in respect of beef, dairy produce, many fish products and 50 per cent of Co-op brand lamb.
Greenpeace claim that as there is currently no requirement for foods from animals fed on GM to be labelled as containing GM, consumers are being hoodwinked by the retailing giants.
The Co-operative Group says it has been working with its suppliers for four years with a view to removing GM soya from animal feed used in the production of Co-op brand produce, but points out that it is a complex procedure.
David Croft, Head of Quality and Consumer Care at the Co-operative Group, told the News: "The Greenpeace survey relates to animal feed, not Co-op brand products. However the policy for Co-op brand food products is very clear ? they do not contain GM ingredients or their derivatives.
"In terms of Co-op chicken, pork and farmed fish (salmon and trout), GM soya has been removed from animal feed, but this has not yet been achieved in terms of lamb and beef because of the diversity in the supply chain and the myriad of small farms that supply these two products.
"We are looking to introduce more non-GM fed meat in the future," added Mr Croft.
Greenpeace spokesman Nathan Argent said: "Shoppers have been fooled into thinking the major retailers have turned their backs on GM, but in reality much of what they buy has been fed on GM animal feed.
"Thankfully, some retailers are cleaning up their act, but for people who shop at the poor performers like Tesco, our guide shows which products to avoid."
Added Mr Argent: "GM animal feed has already contaminated crops in North America. If Tony Blair lets US companies sell their seeds here, maize for animal feed is likely to be the first crop to be grown on a large scale which threatens our environment."