Magazine article Marketing

Amanda Aldridge on Retail: GM Food Issue Highlights Supply-Chain Challenge

Magazine article Marketing

Amanda Aldridge on Retail: GM Food Issue Highlights Supply-Chain Challenge

Article excerpt

The CIES Food Business Forum conference brings together chairmen and chief executives of major food and retail businesses across the world.

It also attracts the attention of lobbying and activist groups; held in Rome this year, the event saw Greenpeace stage a major demonstration against the use of genetically modified (GM) foods.

With speakers blasting the demonstrators' message into the conference hall, activists scaling the hotel walls with a huge flag and another infiltrating a cocktail party dressed as a waiter, the protest served as a reminder that the GM foods debate is still very much alive.

As it stands, the debate is split along transatlantic lines. The US, keen to introduce its products into the lucrative European marketplace, is all in favour of GM foods. Yet the EU has had a moratorium on GM produce in place for six years, only recently lifted to let a single GM breed of sweetcorn onto the market. Not that this has appeased the US, which saw the concession as token at best.

The key point is that consumers in the UK and much of Europe, have a widely held aversion to GM foods. At the moment, UK grocery retailers quite happily stand shoulder to shoulder with their customers on this issue, and will do so as long as the consumer remains unconvinced. Tesco, for example, states there are no GM substances in its own-brand products.

Non-GM animal feed is used for its fresh poultry and fish, and the company aims to expand this into other livestock areas. And of course, thanks to EU legislation on labelling, any items that do contain GM products (and there are some in UK supermarkets) must be clearly labelled.

But just how far down their supply chain can retailers go to ensure foods are GM-free? What must worry them is GM foods sneaking into products on their shelves. Imagine the damage to their reputation if they have to withdraw a product found to contain GM, but not labelled as such.

This is where the situation becomes problematic for retailers. Huge bureaucratic paper chains are in place to determine where GM products are present, but there are major doubts over the reliability of these systems. The supply chain needs to be traced right back to seed level, and it can often pass through less developed countries where procedures to manage the GM issue are not up to EU standards. …

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