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GM on your plate

 


loaves of bread processed with GM enzymes

Key Information

GM gets into the food we eat in a variety of ways:

1) Food made directly from GM crops.
GM crops for human consumption include GM soya, sweetcorn and sugar beet. Foods made from GM crops have to be labelled as GM. Thanks to consumer pressure and overwhelming public rejection supermarkets have taken most of these products off the shelves. Now only a handful of GM products are available in the UK: see the current list below.

 

2) Meat and dairy products made from animals fed on GM
The market for GM animal feed is the main reason that GM crops are grown around the world. Most animal derived food products are made from animals that have been raised on GM feed. Because the GM industry has been facing such strong opposition to GM food, they are now trying to get GM in by the back door. In the UK 60% of all maize and 30% of all soya fed to cows and pigs is GM. This means that most of the non-organic milk, dairy products and pork being sold in the UK is from GM-fed animals. The GM feed is imported from outside the UK. There's more info and advice on how to avoid GM dairy and meat below.

 

3) Food contaminated with GM.
The food chain can be contaminated with GM in several ways - by GM pollen being transferred to neighbouring non-GM fields, by GM and non-GM grains being processed in the same facilities and through accidental mix-ups. EU law allows contamination of up to 0.9% before a product has to be labelled as containing GM. The GM contamination register was set up by GeneWatch UK and Greenpeace International and has recorded 238 publicly known incidences of GM contamination. During 2006 and 2007 illegal GM rice, unapproved for human consumption, contaminated rice exports from the US to over 30 countries, including rice on sale in UK supermarkets.

 

1) Food made directly from GM crops

GM Freeze have compiled a list of GM products currently sold in the UK. For an up to date version visit GM Freeze.

Bacos bacon flavour soya chips

  1. Genetically Modified soya oil is the 'blended' vegetable oil sold by KTC, Pride, Pearl White, SUD, and Agri Energy, and in the Olive Pomace Oil sold by KTC.

  2. Hershey's Nutrageous chocolate bars (Tesco/from January 2009, Sainsbury's/from March 2009).  Nine of the ingredients are GM! You can view the full list of ingredients here.

  3. Schwartz Seasoned Salad Topping (Sainsbury's from March 2009).

  4. General Mills Bacos Bacon Flavour Soya chips (Tesco and Morrisons from March 2009).

  5. OSEM cream crackers (Kosher) (Morrison's, July 2011).

  6. OSEM sesame cracker (Kosher) (Waitrose, March 2012).

  7. General Mills Lucky Charms cereal (Tesco, August 2013).

  8. OSEM wafers chocolate flavour (Sainsbury's, October 2013).

Other sources of genetically modified organisms in food include some food additives, enzymes, flavourings and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet®) and rennet used to make hard cheeses. These have been made by genetically modified bacteria in industrial processes.

 

2) Meat and dairy products made from animals fed on GM

A 2007 Soil Association Report into the use of GM crops in livestock found the following shocking results:

Around 60% of the maize and 30% of the soya fed to cows and pigs is GM. This translates into 146,000 tonnes of GM soya and 290,000 tonnes of GM maize, imported each year from outside the UK. The other two GM crops fed to animals are rape seed and cotton seed. GM animal feed is also being used to produce much of the meat, dairy and egg products imported into the UK. The market for GM animal feed is the main reason for the expansion of GM crops around the world and threatens the continued exclusion of GM ingredients from UK food.

Most of the non-organic milk, dairy products and pork being sold in the UK is from GM-fed animals.

All supermarkets are widely allowing the use of GM feed, except for their fresh own-label chicken, turkey and eggs which are produced from non-GM feed. Due to a loophole in the law, none of this food is labelled as 'GM' so it is difficult to avoid. M&S is far ahead of the others as all of their milk and fresh meat is from non-GM fed animals; but even they are not requiring non-GM feed for their frozen and processed products. At the moment, 'organic' is the only food type which prohibits GM feed.

New scientific evidence shows that small amounts of GM DNA end up in milk and animal tissues of GM-fed animals, contrary to the assurances from the Food Standards Agency. In addition, at least 13 animal feeding trials now show a range of alarming health effects in animals fed GM: lesions in the gut, toxic effects in body organs, unexplained deaths and stunted growth in their offspring.

The Soil Association recommends the following to avoid buying GM:

Buy Organic food – organic production explicitly prohibits the use of GM including GM animal feed.

If you can't buy organic follow these guidelines:

  • Milk: Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s ‘Farm Promise’ milk (in some stores only - so ask!) are from non-GM fed animals.

  • Eggs: Choose any own-label supermarket eggs (except Iceland); the egg brands, ‘Woodland', ‘Corn Gold’, ‘Columbus omega-3 rich’, and ‘Church and Manor’ duck eggs. Avoid eggs from other brands and from independent retailers unless they are actually labelled as produced without GM feed.

  • Chicken and turkey: Choose any supermarket own-label fresh meat (except Iceland); frozen own-label chicken in Sainsbury’s and Morrisons; frozen own-label turkey in Morrisons; Lloyd Maunder products.

  • Pork, beef and lamb: Choose fresh meat from Marks & Spencer; beef- or pork-containing products in Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range; lamb or beef that is labelled as only fed on grass.

  • Processed meat and dairy products: Organic is the only general non-GM option for processed meat and dairy products such as yoghurt, cheese, butter, cream, ice cream, frozen meat, bacon, ham, sausages, meat pies, corned beef and ready meals.

     

Read about

 

3) Food contaminated with GM

Labelling of contaminated food

EU law allows contamination of up to 0.9 percent before a product has to be labelled as containing GM. The use of GM is explicitly prohibited in organic certified food, but, as with conventional food the law allows accidental contamination of up to 0.9 percent. Currently tests can detect contamination down to 0.1 percent and the organic movement campaigned hard to make sure that organic food must not be contaminated above the level of detection. However the European Commission, with the support of the UK Government in 2007 went against the wishes of organic farmers and consumers and is now allowing organic food to contain up to 0.9% of accidental GM contamination - almost one in a hundred mouthfuls - without being labelled. Both the Soil Association and Organic Farmers And Growers, which together certify more than 90 per cent of Britain's organic food, have pledged to keep their own criteria at 0.1 per cent. Many whole food producers also have pledged to be GM free and regularly test their products. Ask your local whole food shop about their GM policy.

How contamination occurs

The food chain can be contaminated with GM in several ways - by GM pollen being transferred to neighbouring non-GM fields, by GM and non-GM grains being processed in the same facilities and through accidental mix-ups.

Once released, it is not possible to contain or control genetically modified organisms yet there is no global monitoring system. Because of this failure of national and international agencies, GeneWatch UK and Greenpeace International launched the GM contamination register to record all publicly known incidents GM contamination starting from 1997. To date 238 incidents have been recorded.

In 2006 and 2007 tonnes of GM contaminated rice had to be withdrawn from supermarket shelves worldwide

During 2006 and 2007 illegal GM rice, unapproved for human consumption, contaminated rice exports from the US to over 30 countries, including rice on sale in UK supermarkets. At the time of discovery only one of the contaminating varieties had approval for cultivation in the US, the other two varieties and had not. None of the contaminating varieties had approval for cultivation or consumption anywhere else in the world. The EU put in place emergency measures to help stop contaminated rice reaching our plates, however many packets of rice had already been sold before they could be removed from the shelves.

The source of the contamination is believed to be field trials of GM rice conducted between the mid-1990s and early-2000s. It is unclear whether cross pollination or mechanical mixing was the mechanism responsible for the contamination.

The incident has had a major impact on US rice exports with US rice being pulled from shelves worldwide. Many countries imposed a strict certification and testing regime on all rice imports, whilst others imposed bans on US rice. The contamination has also affected seed producers; an entire non-GM rice variety Clearfield 131 was banned by US regulators in early 2007 when it was found to be contaminated, costing producer BASF billions of dollars in losses. For more information see the entry on the GM Contamination Register

GM contaminated rice foods from China

In 2006 an investigation by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth found contamination of rice food products imported from China. Rice products bought from Chinese speciality stores contained GM rice that has been grown experimentally in China but has not been given approval for commercial growing or food use. The GM rice has caused other contamination incidents, including of Heinz baby food purchased in China. For more information see the entry on the GM Contamination Register

 

GM Maize contamination

In 2000 Asda and Safeway own brand tortilla chips and Phileas Fogg tortilla chips were found to be contain GM maize not licensed for sale in the UK. For more information see the entry on the GM Contamination Register

Sampling of maize imports by Greenpeace UK between 2003 and 2005 found four incidences of unapproved GM maize entering the UK. For more information see the entry on the GM Contamination Register