Tesco announced it would no longer ask its poultry producers to use GM-free feed, after the poultry industry highlighted the continuing difficulty of being able to guarantee wholly GM-free feed.
However, according to the British Poultry Council (BPC), GM crops are highly regulated in terms of health and environmental safety and a spokeswoman said: "They have been used in the UK to feed livestock, including poultry, destined for the retail supply chain around the world for the last 15 years.
"The availability of non-GM soya has reduced significantly in recent years as growers produce more GM varieties. The likelihood of accidental GM presence is much greater than ever before, so it is no longer possible to guarantee that feed is entirely GM-free," she added.
Tesco said the move had come in light of a global surge in GM soya, as well as a change in agricultural techniques, which meant it could no longer guarantee GM-free poultry to its customers.
Technical group director for Tesco Tim Smith said in a statement: "We could not continue with a promise we cannot be sure it is possible to keep and we wanted to be upfront about the changes we are making."
However, the fact that GM feed could be used to produce poultry, does not mean the meat sold by Tesco would be genetically modified in any way, Smith made clear. He said: "The Food Standards Agency is clear that DNA from modified soya is not present in the meat of animals fed on it, not in animal products such as eggs or milk. GM affects only the crop used in the feed."
After Tesco’s announcement Marks & Spencer issued a statement to say that it, like other retailers, had told its suppliers it would no longer stipulate the use of non-GM feed in its fresh meat supply chain.
In the statement a spokesperson said: "This change in policy is absolutely necessary, because there is now a much-reduced supply of non-GM feed available to UK farmers.
"As such, we can now no longer guarantee that our fresh meat has been fed on a non-GM diet. Our organic fresh meat ranges will still be available to customers who want to consider an alternative option."
The Co-operative also announced that it, too, could no longer guarantee its own-brand chicken and turkey to be free of GM-feed.