By Louise Gray
Supermarkets across Britain are routinely selling food from animals reared on genetically modified crops without having to declare it on labelling, it can be disclosed.
They have acknowledged that meat, fish, eggs and dairy products on their shelves could contain “indirect” GM ingredients.
Every major supermarket in the country said it was unable to provide a guarantee that it was not selling products from animals given GM feed.
Even ”high-end’’ retailers said only the more expensive organic ranges were certain to have been produced without any GM involvement.
The disclosures have reignited the debate about the use of genetic technology in food production following health and environmental concerns.
Opponents of the technology claimed that retailers were using a loophole in labelling rules to “trick” the public over the link to GM.
The disclosures follow the recent resignation of two leading academics from a government panel set up to assess public attitudes to the new technology in protest at “GM propaganda”.
Under European rules, any food containing raw GM ingredients, such as corn or soy, must be labelled as such.
There is no legal obligation for food producers, shops and supermarkets to do the same when the GM link is further back in the food chain.
It means, for example, that milk from dairy cows reared on modified soy can be sold without any reference to GM on the label.
According to food watchdogs, such products can be exempted from food labelling rules because the original foodstuffs have been broken down into a different form in the animal’s stomach and no longer pose a health risk to consumers.
Campaigners said consumers deserved to be given the choice – and knowledge of the “indirect” GM link – through clearer labelling.
Michael Meacher, the former environment minister, said animal feed was being used as a way of “inserting GM into the food chain”.
“If people choose to eat GM that is a matter for them,” he said. “But I think we are trying to trick them by making sure it actually happens even though people realise what the implications are.”
Last night supermarkets including Iceland, Aldi and Lidl said they could provide no guarantee that meat, farmed fish, eggs or dairy products on sale did not come from animals given GM feed. Asda said “all livestock” could potentially have been fed GM products. Sainsbury’s and Tesco said poultry and animals for certain high value lines were fed a non-GM diet. But they could not guarantee animal products from most of the rest of the range.
M&S and Waitrose, which promote a tougher stance against factory-farmed foods, sell processed food such as chicken sandwiches and ice cream produced from animals fed a GM diet.
Retailers said British farmers relied largely on imported feed, most of which was made from GM soy meal from North or South America. Pete Riley, of the campaign group GM Freeze, said: “No supermarket can claim to be non-GM, they might have aspired to be at one point, but effectively they have been pulling the wool over people’s eyes.”