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Immediate release (26 Mar 2012)

Morrisons Ignores Customers, Piles Pressure on Farmers

GM Freeze today said farmers should be very wary of Morrisons’ switch to GM feed in poultry. The company’s announcement that it will now allow poultry producers to use feed for their flocks containing GM ingredients [1] could lead to a drop in prices farmers receive from the supermarket in the medium term and a loss of market to non-GM producers.

A 2011 opinion survey commissioned by Which? showed that 70% of respondents think non-GM animal feed is important. [2] This echoes findings of a GfK/NOP poll in 2010 showing 89% of shoppers want labels on food from animals fed GM, and 72% are willing to pay more to get it. [3]

The use of GM in poultry feed remains highly controversial. Soya meal produced in South America is the main source of protein in poultry feed. Argentina supplies the bulk of soya meal in the EU and UK, where nearly all production is Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GM soya routinely sprayed with the weedkiller glyphosate. Independent research shows strong links between glyphosate use and health problems in rural areas, including birth defects. [4] Impacts on wildlife, especially frogs and soil microorganisms, are also being exposed. [4] Glyphosate residues in crops, [4] rivers [5] and groundwater [6] are frequently detected in areas where glyphosate is used.

Certified non-GM soya can be readily obtained, and the current price premium is 10-13.8%. [7] More non-GM soya is grown in Brazil than is certified because farmers don’t risk the expense of certification if they do not have a known buyer for non-GM. An industry source reported that 25-30% of the Brazilian soya crop was non-GM in 2011, but only around 25% was certified as non-GM. [8]

Supplies of non-GM could therefore increase if supermarkets and other food processors proactively work with their suppliers to ensure orders are placed. This in turn would help normal market forces bring down the cost of non-GM as more enters the market. 

Other non-GM ingredients in poultry feed, such as wheat, have also been subject to big price rises since 2008. Volatility in feed prices will be a long-term problem in the poultry industry since feed makes up the bulk of the production costs. GM ingredients for animal feed have been widely available for at least a decade, yet commodity prices continue to be subject to large fluctuations, which belies industry claims that GM keeps prices down.

GM Freeze says sourcing non-GM soya is estimated to put 4.2p/kg or 6p/bird on the costs of producing a broiler chicken, and this increase could be covered by Morrisions rather than producers. Last year Morrisons’ pre-tax profit was £869 million. [9] Morrisons sells over a million standard chickens per week, [10] meaning that the cost of absorbing the extra for non-GM feed for these would amount to less than 0.4% of annual profits.

Other retailers across the EU use non-GM soya in their poultry production. In the UK Marks & Spencer leads the way in non-GM fed poultry, with others providing non-GM chicken. [11]

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

“Morrisons is turning its back on its customers and suppliers. Other companies across the EU keep GM out of their poultry feed because they know this is what people want. We fear that opening the door to GM poultry feed in this way merely offers temporary respite for poultry farmers, who are very vulnerable to big hikes in commodity crop prices. The presence of GM feed on the market for years has not stemmed price rises in feed, so why does Morrisons think it will keep them down now?

“By taking the risky option of sourcing GM feed instead of absorbing the pennies needed to use non-GM, Morrison’s also gambles with a consumer backlash. Consumers don’t want to eat GM or support the GM industry, and people are becoming more aware of the damaging nature of GM soya production in places like Argentina.

“Morrisons knows full well how much it costs to produce poultry meat, and producers should be very vigilant to ensure the company does not exploit a temporary drop in farmers' costs due to non-GM feed to lower the price they pay producers for each bird.

“In the meantime consumers who do not wish to support GM or unsustainable soya production with their weekly shop should go elsewhere.”

ENDs

Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341 065

Notes

[1] The Grocer, 23 March 2012. “Morrisons gambles on GM chicken feed shift

[2] Survey results reported by Sue Davies of Which? at the Oxford Farming Conference January 2012

[3] See GM Freeze “GM is unwanted

[4] GM Freeze, 30 June 2012. Herbicide tolerance and GM crops. Why the world should be ready to round up glyphosate 

[5] USGS press release, 29 August 2011. “Widely Used Herbicide Commonly Found in Rain and Streams in the Mississippi River Basin

[6] Sanchis J, et al, 2011. "Determination of glyphosate in groundwater samples using an ultrasensitive immunoassay and confirmation by on-line solid-phase extraction followed by liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry". Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry (ref DOI 10.1007/s00216-011-5541-y)  

[7] See Straights Direct commodity prices

[8] ProTerra Foundation. “Volumes of ProTerra soy available on the market today

[9] Morrisons Annual Accounts and Financial Statement 2011. Available at www.morrisons.co.uk/Documents/Morrisons-Annual-Report-2011.pdf

[10] The Grocer, 24 September 2011, “Higher-welfare boost for Morrisons chicken

[11] See GM Freeze “Where to buy non-GM fed