Tesco Stores, a leading UK-based retailer to label modified soya oils, lecithin

Report by ENDS Daily - 17/09/98


A leading European retailer's decision to label most products containing soya oils and lecithin as genetically modified has taken debate over labelling of foods containing modified ingredients another step into uncharted territory. UK-based Tesco, one of Europe's largest food retailers, said this week that it would introduce labelling on all own brand products containing soya oils and lecithin except where it was satisfied that the ingredients came from non-modified crops.

The move takes Tesco outside the scope of EU law on modified food labelling, which requires labelling of foods containing Monsanto's Roundup Ready soya but explicitly excludes oils and lecithin. The reasoning for this is neither contains any protein or DNA, so there is no way of proving or disproving scientifically whether they originate from modified crops.

Tesco recently began labelling products containing soya and maize vegetable matter as modified or not modified, a process it said took about a year to implement. Based on this experience, it estimates that around 60% of the 1,000 own-brand products it sells that contain soya oils and lecithin will turn out to originate from modified soya crops.

The supermarket chain will attempt to determine the origin of the soya oils and lecithin in products it sells by requesting information from its supply chain. Tesco says it will label both products identified as originating from modified crops and those for which it cannot obtain firm information. Products that it is satisfied do not contain oil or lecithin originating from modified crops will carry no special label.

Tesco says its new policy responds to customer concern over modified food labelling, and particularly over foods containing soya oils and lecithin. "Customers have a right to know more about the products that they buy," the firm said in a statement.

The supermarket says it will continue to push US soya suppliers to segregate modified and non-modified soya crops, which would dramatically increase its ability to determine whether soya oils or lecithin in its products originate from modified plants. Interviewed by ENDS Daily today, the company indicated that its campaign for segregation would not be easy. "UK retailers have been banging their heads against a brick wall," a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, a number of big Austrian food retailers have pledged not to allow any modified ingredients on to their shelves. A spokesperson for the Spar food chain told ENDS Daily it had also begun to trace products back along the supply chain, and to exert pressure on its suppliers for a gm-free guarantee. However, it was a "big and difficult problem," she admitted.

Contacts: Tesco (http://www.tesco.co.uk), tel: +44 1992 632 222.