Sainsbury's needs a reminder

January 2012

Greenpeace anti-GMO protest
Photo © Greenpeace / Eric de Mildt
Tell the Government that using a GM-sympathetic supermarket to persuade the public that GM is “good to eat and safe to eat” is NOT representing your best interests. At the same time, remind its pals in Sainsbury's that you won't buy GM food.

Sainsbury's managers seems to have an attitude problem: they view their customers as “naive”, and unable to think for themselves without “an independent voice” to tell them about GM.

Could that be you they're talking about?

Perhaps the UK government is awash with Sainsbury's customers, because it seems unaccountably naive on the subject of GM food.

At the recent annual Oxford Farming Conference, the agriculture minister and shadow environment secretary together succeeded in broadcasting the information that:
  • It's the EU restrictions which are preventing the UK from using GM technology (or, was it the consistent, persistent and clearly-grounded rejection of the technology by the people?)
  • It was the biotech industry's poor communication of the potential benefits of GM which led to them being rejected in the first place (or, was it the determination of the industry to neither acknowledge nor address the potential for harm which was clearly perceived by the consumer?)
  • GM could “massively help increase food production” (an assumption of future success, not supported by its history so far.)
  • GM crops are a way to ensure affordable nutritional food (a claim not backed up by the current use of all major GM crops in supplying the junk food industry, nor by the global food price rises which have occurred during the time since GM crops were introduced.)
  • GM varieties “would need less nitrogen fertiliser, pesticides or fresh water than non-GM foods” (claims which are still on the GM scientists wish-list, but are a developmental reality in the world of modern non-GM breeding techniques.)
  • Nitrogen-fixing GM wheat will be available to farmers shortly, the only obstacle being whether consumers “are prepared to welcome that for the major environmental gains” (this radically different GM wheat has not yet been approved, nor undergone long-term environmental tests, nor human safety trials; it seems the government is more focused on public acceptance than on the inherent novel risks to the environment, farmers and consumers.)
The government has access to any number of independent voices to tell them about GM. Why is it ignoring their requests for appropriate, targeted testing and adequately extended risk assessment? Why is it, instead, trotting out what looks like a biotech-industry PR script suggesting the public are clueless?

Ah. Here's why.

The government's statements at the Conference were slotted in after Sainsbury's managers had set the scene for them.

The agricultural minister went on to admit that “Whatever the government says about GM, the public will never believe it - but perversely they believe very strongly that what goes on a supermarket shelf is good to eat and safe to eat.” He suggested that supermarkets needed to take the lead on introducing GM food for sale more widely. Supermarkets such as Sainsbury's?

Sainsbury's brand director even expressed how sad they all felt that the UK is missing out on GM research while the “programme ... being used in other parts of the world and they are using technology (GM) that the UK hasn't been part of (sic)”.

Good try, DEFRA and Sainsbury both, and the biotech industry for getting so many VIPs to act as if they're naive and don't have an independent voice to listen to!

If you do happen to be feeling at all naive about GM, there are plenty of independent voices from people who have been closely following GM technology, science and politics since the whole questionable business began. They can tell you everything about GM you never wanted to know (check out the websites, for example, of the Institute for Science in Society, GM Freeze, GM Watch, GM-free Scotland, GM-free Cymru, GM-free Ireland, ... Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace ...)

What you can do

Don't leave it to the GM-concern NGOs to do all the shouting, and don't let the pro-GM lobby do all the talking!

First, e-mail your MP ( ). Tell him or her:
  • Using a GM-sympathetic supermarket to persuade the public that GM is “good to eat and safe to eat”, as suggested by the agriculture minister at the recent annual Oxford Farming Conference, is not acceptable
  • Your trust in supermarkets has been eroded by the agriculture minister's ploy
  • You will not now, or in the future, buy or eat GM food
  • (If you want to have some fun, you could also point out that there's nothing perverse about the public expecting the food on supermarket shelves to be safe, since its the government's job to ensure it is; what is perverse is that the government is using clever tricks to by-pass the public will)

Then, e-mail Sainsbury's brand manager, Judith Batchelar ( and Sainsbury's CEO, Justin King (

Tell them:
  • You distrust Sainsbury's in light of its apparently pre-planned role in supporting the Government's pro-GM agenda at the Oxford Farming Conference (a major platform for the discussion of the future of farming in the UK)
  • You now distrust Sainsbury's professed commitment to its current no-GM own-brand policy
  • Your choice of food store is based, first and foremost, on the integrity of the company
  • You will not now, nor in the future, buy or eat GM food
PS Just in case you're wondering if other supermarkets are in on the Government's pro-GM act, Waitrose for one is on record as saying:
“Waitrose continues to maintain our non-GM stance, partly because we know our customers don't want it. The major problem with the technology is that it is a 'one in, all in' deal, and that simply isn't fair on those farmers who want their land to remain GM-free”
  • Juliette Jowit, Tories and Labour renew backing for GM food crops, Guardian, 5.01.12
  • GM could be an answer in food security debate, Farmers' Weekly, 4 01.12
  • Sainsbury's “sad” UK is “missing out” on GM, GM Freeze Alert, 10.01.12, and updates 11.01.12, 17.01.12
  • Tell Sainsbury's what you think of GM, GM Watch 8.01.12

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