LONDON -- J. Sainsbury here has established an international consortium of food retailers to eliminate all genetically modified ingredients from their private-label food products.
The consortium also includes Marks & Spencer, Carrefour of France, Superquinn of Ireland, Delhaize (LeLion) of Belgium, Migros of Switzerland and Effelunga of Italy.
The consortium has arisen against a backdrop of continuing controversy over genetically modified foods. Most other U.K. food retailers, such as Tesco, Asda, Safeway and Iceland, have banned GM ingredients in their private-label lines over the last few months. Meanwhile, the British government and European Union have announced additional limitations on the use of GM ingredients.
The British government recently announced that restaurants, caterers and cafes would have to label any foods containing GM ingredients. Food preparers face fines of up to $8,100 for each instance of noncompliance. The new regulations are part of the U.K.'s move to enforce the EU's rules on labeling GM foodstuffs. Jeff Rooker, the British food-safety minister, predicted other European governments would soon institute similar regulations.
The retail consortium led by Sainsbury's also aims to audit and test raw materials from food growers. An independent group of experts headed by Law Laboratories will verify that products are GM-free, Sainsbury's said. The group will work with growers and commodity producers to ensure that standard and GM crops are segregated, both in transportation and during the production process.
"This is a world first," said Alison Austin, Sainsbury's environmental manager. "A consortium like this is the only way Sainsbury's and other food retailers can establish GM-free sources of crops and derivatives. By establishing verified non-GM sources in the farmer's field and ensuring segregation through the supply chain, we will be GM-free."
Austin said Sainsbury's and the other retailers always wanted GM and standard crops to be segregated and were disappointed when this was not done with soya crops from the United States.
Sainsbury's has worked over the last 18 months to establish non-GM soya alternatives for its private-label products and has cut the number of its private-label products using GM ingredients from about 1,500 to 50. The retailer plans to discontinue the remainder if it cannot find GM-free ingredients for them, Austin said.
At the same time, Sainsbury's and the other retailers will continue to sell major brands that use GM ingredients.
Under EU rules, manufacturers must label any foods that contain GM ingredients, except derivatives such as soya.