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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

Tesco Broken Promise on GM: Customers and shareholders let down

Immediate release (27 Jun 2013)

Calls to: Jane O’Meara 01258 861023; Pete Riley 07903 341 065

Tesco broke its promise to phase out GM animal feed, badly letting down its customers and breaking commitments made in the company’s corporate social responsibility report, GM Freeze said today on the eve of the Tesco AGM. [1]

In 1999 Tesco wrote to its suppliers stating the company was aiming for the “complete elimination of GM ingredients from animal feed”. [2] This pledge was echoed in 2001 when the company announced it would “phase out” GM-fed eggs, poultry, pork and fish. [3]

However in April 2013 Tesco led the abandonment of the commitments made by UK supermarkets requiring varying degrees of non-GM feed use, saying it would permit suppliers “to use GM feed in producing our non-organic meat, eggs and milk”. [4]

Tesco customers know less now about the products they buy than they did in March this year because the company refuses to label meat, milk and eggs to help shoppers see where GM feed is, and isn’t, used. This directly contradicts CEO Philip Clarke’s assurance in the company’s corporate social responsibility report Tesco and Society, published after the GM feed announcement, “Our promise is simple: If it isn’t on the label, it won’t be in the product.” [5]

The Tesco and Society report also makes great claims that the company uses its considerable market power “for good”, with Chairman Richard Broadbent saying:

So when we talk about our value of using our scale for good in society, we think in terms of creating opportunities, having respect for both people and products and supporting choice for everyone…[These ambitions] are a direction of travel for an organisation which attaches great importance to understanding and discharging its full accountability to all whose lives it touches.

CEO Philip Clarke puts it more simply, “Our strong belief is that we cannot build a sustainable business on an unsustainable supply chain.”

However Tesco’s decision to move toward GM feed means it now relies on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (RR) GM soya, a crop condemned by hundreds of organizations around the world as fundamentally unsustainable, because:

  • In South America GM RR crops are regularly sprayed, including from aircraft, with Roundup (active ingredient glyphosate) to control weeds causing severe health and reproductive problems for the communities under the spray drift. [6]
  • Overreliance on Roundup has triggered the development of resistant weeds able to survive sprays, which now spread across millions of acres of farmland. Farmers now must use hand weeding or an armory of herbicides alongside glyphosate to control them, contradicting the promise the GM would mean cheap, easy weed control. [7]
  • RR soya is likely to increase glyphosate residues in animal feed because the weedkiller is applied directly on growing crops prior to harvest. [8]

Jane O’Meara of GM Free Dorset said:

Tesco’s customers quite rightly expect the company to honor the pledges it makes, but in the case of GM animal feed customers have been badly let down, if not mislead.

If Tesco is serious about ‘using its scale for good’ it should use long-term contracts to secure its share of Brazil’s non-GM soya, build confidence in this market and foster expanded production, which would in turn bring prices down under the normal operation of market forces. Despite having had over a decade to do this, Tesco has failed to secure long-term supply contracts for the non-GM soya available on the market, but nevertheless tries to assure customers and shareholders the company is acting sustainably. It just doesn’t add up.

A 2010 poll showed 89% of Tesco customers want GM-fed meat, milk and eggs to be labeled, and 72% said they would be willing to pay more for foods produced without GM feed. [1] The move toward GM feed therefore contradicts the promises the company made to its customers to get rid of GM feed and to ensure its supply chain is sustainable, plus Tesco continues to ignore the desire the vast majority of its customers have for labels.

Commenting on Tesco’s ill-judged decision Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

Tesco is now backing GM soya production in South America, where it is grown in huge monocultures sprayed frequently with Roundup to the detriment of people and ecosystems there. Things are likely to get worse as weeds resistant to Roundup continue to spread.

The decision to move away from non-GM feed was not the action of a responsible company, and shareholders need to look carefully at the impact this decision will have on the quality of what Tesco sells and its reputation with its customers.




[1] GM Freeze, 26 June 2913. Broken Promises: Tesco and GM animal feed

The Tesco AGM will be held at the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster on Friday 28 June 2013 from 11am.

[2] Organic Consumers Association, 20 December 1999. “UK Supermarket Chains Ban Meat from Animals Fed GE Feed

[3] Greenpeace, 25 January 2001. “Tesco and Asda act to phase out meat and dairy products

[4] Statement issued by Tesco on 12 April 2013 Genetic Modification UK Position

[5] Tesco, 23 May 2013. Tesco and Society

[6] GM Freeze, Friends of the Earth and Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO Publishing), 22 May 2012. Roundtable on Responsible Soya – The certifying smoke screen

[7] GM Freeze and PAN UK, 21 June 2013. The Herbicide Treadmill in Roundup Ready Crops – EU environment faces huge increase in toxic burden

[8] GM Freeze, 8 Feb 2012. “Food Herbicide Residues Set to Rise As Much As 150 Times


GM Freeze, 23 October 2012. Glyphosate Residues in UK Food 2011


GM Freeze and Greenpeace, 30 July 2011. Herbicide Tolerance and GM Crops – Why the world should be ready to round up glyphosate