Hershey, maker of America's only home-spun chocolate, has been giving very mixed message on its use of GM ingredients.
In 2007, just when GM sugar-beet was heading towards US fields for the 2008 harvest, Hershey was urging farmers not to plant it. The indications were that the Company had noted consumer resistance and had announced it would not use GM sugar in its products.
Hershey has not traditionally been a big exporter to Europe. However, in 2009, Hershey's 'Nutrageous' and other peanut candy bars started to appear on most supermarket shelves.
Most of these were true American candy bars complete with GM ingredients. However, non-GM versions of Nutrageous were available in some outlets. The Company had, clearly, retained the capacity to produce non-GM candy. Why it chose to flood a GM-unfriendly market with GM candy isn't known, but the testing of the water in cahoots with UK supermarkets seems the most likely explanation.
Another question raised by the GM candy is why Hershey was expressing so much early concern about GM sugar. Nutrageous contains nine ingredients derived from GM plants: three of these are sugar; four are artificial sugars; one is lecithin; and one is an oil derivative. Is it reasonable to worry about the sugar when there's so much GM corn and soya in there anyway?
Perhaps Hershey already had its sights on the European market back in 2008, and realised the GM-jitters there warranted a dose of PR to brand itself as 'the good guy'. Indeed in 2010, the Company established a new European subsidiary in London.
The story has just taken an interesting new twist.
ASDA has struck an “exclusive” deal with Hershey to sell its products from February 2011. The deal is dependent on the products being reformulated to use non-GM ingredients, while items which can't be reformulated will be excluded. Twenty-one lines, from solid bars to Reese's and Hershey Kisses will be stocked.
Besides the reformulation, the transportation and storage of the ingredients have been confirmed GM-free or are cleaned before use with non-GM products.
The reason given by ASDA for demanding non-GM candy is that customers in the UK do not currently wish to see GM ingredients in these products.
If this is true, it suggests the Nutrageous bars on just about every supermarket sweet shelf aren't selling too well.
Alternatively, it could be just the PR stunt ASDA needs at the moment.
Be aware that, in May 2010, in a Hershey-style shift of position on GM, ASDA very quietly dropped its non-GM animal feed policy on poultry and eggs. Such a sudden, hush-hush change in policy could happen again at any time.
P.S. Don't swallow the scaremongerers who are trying to tell you GM feed is running out and that going GM-free will cause food prices to escalate. In 2011, the world's biggest multiple retailer, Carrefour of France, found GM-free feed to be in sufficient supply for it to label its animal products 'raised with GM'. Higher costs of GM feed arise at present largely because the cost of segration falls, ironically, on the non-GM supply chain: even with this extra burden, the prices differential is not huge (at worst, a couple of pence on a dozen eggs).
- Sean Poulter, Supermarkets urged to follow in the French footsteps and label food that isn't GM, Daily Mail, 12.11.10
- Jonathan Birchall, Hershey targets UK and Europe, Financial Times, 7.12.10
- Urgent action: keep our poultry GM-feed-free, GM Freeze Release 3.01.11
- Asda Hershey deal to supply non-GMO products, message from Peter Melchett and the Soil Association, 22.12.10
- LOOKING FORWARD TO 2008 – GM-free Scotland News, December 2007
- BEAT THE BEET – GM-free Scotland News, March 2009
- OUTRAGEOUS NUTRAGEOUS – GM-free Scotland News, March 2009
- ASDA DROPS GM-FREE FEED POLICY - GM-free Scotland News, May 2010