Greenpeace turns chicken in GM protest

Greenpeace sought to turn public attention to genetically modified (GM) animal feed in November with a photogenic caper at the UK's only soya mill - owned by the world's largest food and grain trader, Cargill. The stunt came as fast food giants McDonald's and Burger King announced a move away from GM-fed animals.

Sixty activists dressed as pantomime chickens burst from trucks after bypassing security at Cargill's Gladstone Docks mill in Liverpool early on 20 November. Attaching banners stating there was "GM inside", the protestors said their aim was to highlight Cargill's continued "sneaking" of GM soya into the UK, most of which goes to animal feed.

Greenpeace cites a recent NOP poll, which it commissioned, which found that 67% of consumers do not want GM crops to be fed to animals, while 90% want clear labelling of meat produced in this way. Most of the two million tonnes of soya imported into the UK each year is processed at Gladstone Docks. Cargill is also a major UK importer of other GM and non-GM grains, including maize for human and animal consumption. It is unclear how much imported feed is genetically modified because there is no legal requirement to track such material separately - but Ministry of Agriculture reports suggest it is "substantial".

Greenpeace's campaign appears to have left Cargill cold. The company's European spokesperson, Geraldine O'Shea, told ENDS that it was "unrealistic" to expect the company to dictate which crops its customers must use.

"We are a business at the end of the day and we are doing nothing illegal. If we do not supply GM crops, our competitors, of whom there are several in the UK, will." She pointed out that the company is working with Iceland and other retailers to supply them with identity-preserved non-GM crops and will continue to supply whatever a customer wants and is prepared to pay for.

The situation mirrors the high-profile row over the segregation of GM crops used in food for human consumption. Initially, the seeds industry had claimed that it would be impossible to deliver GM-free material, but pressure from retailers led to a change of policy.

Greenpeace is doing everything it can to maximise the pressure on retailers over GM animal feed. Its web site offers a shopper's guide to GM-free food which lists firms that have committed not to use GM ingredients in own-brand foods and have promised to work to source animals that have not been fed on GM material. They include the major retailers Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, Marks and Spencer, Iceland and CWS.

Also in November, two multinational fast-food chains, McDonald's and Burger King, announced that they have asked suppliers of meat, dairy products and eggs to seek non-GM sources of animal feed.

McDonald's, which uses chickens produced in the UK, said that its supplier already uses Brazilian soya meal which is "principally non-GM". Burger King expects its UK chicken suppliers to have removed GM feeds by early next year.

Both companies say they are acting in response to public opinion in the UK rather than any concerns they have about the safety or ecological impact of GM crops.

The weight given to public opinion by fast-food chains and retailers in the UK will worry GM crop companies in North America. Worldwide, around half the GM crops grown to date have been for animal feed - and EC markets are vital. The new Greenpeace campaign to persuade consumers to boycott animals fed on GM material poses a considerable threat.

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