Letter from J Sainsbury plc
1. Thank you for inviting J Sainsbury plc to
submit evidence as part of the above inquiry. Our largest subsidiary,
Sainsbury's Supermarkets, offers over 23,000 products, 40 per
cent of which are own brand. Sainsbury's brand products are sourced
against our own specifications. Their quality, composition and
safety is managed by Sainsbury's 200-strong Technical Division.
2. Sainsbury's position on genetically modified
foodstruffs is that set out in the Institute of Grocery Distribution
guidelines in March 1997 (Appendix) [not printed]. The
IGD Biotechnology Advisory Working Group worked over a period
of four years to formulate these guidelines. Sainsbury's Technical
Division Departmental Director, Geoff Spriegel, was an active
member of it. The IGD guidelines have the support of representatives
of just about every link and interested sector of the UK food
3. Sainsbury's policy is that genetically modified
foods should be labelled so that customers can make an informed
choice about the products they are buying. Adequate labelling
is vital to ensure that customers are able to choose whether or
not to buy a genetically modified product. In addition to labelling,
we also provide customer information leaflets. These are regularly
updated and a copy of the latest version is enclosed [see Appendix].
4. In February 1996, Sainsbury's introduced
a genetically modified tomato puree. It was clearly labelled "made
with genetically modified tomatoes" on the front of the can.
Its launch was supported by customer leaflets displayed in store
and the company gave a full pre-briefing to the media. The product
was introduced with minimum fuss and with maximum consumer acceptance.
5. Sainsbury's are able to clearly label the
genetically modified tomato puree only because we worked in partnership
with the grower and planned for segregation and appropriate labelling.
This is the exact opposite to the way in which the genetically
modified commodity crops are being introduced to the market and
why consumer acceptance of these products is markedly lower.
6. We tried, but unsuccessfully, to persuade
Monsanto and the American Soya Bean Association of the need to
segregate genetically modified soya from the standard crop for
reasons of consumer choice. Subsequently we have worked to source
identity preserved soya and soya-protein derivatives for our own
brand products. As a result and for the immediate future, we are
able to offer fewer products containing genetically modified soya
than many other food retailers. We estimate that genetically modified
soya is currently used in as few as 30 to 40 of our own brand
products. We will continue to source identity preserved soya for
as long as supplies remain available.
7. Sainsbury's has confidence in the safety
of genetically modified products which have been fully approved
for food use in the UK. However, with regard to the regulatory
process itself, we have the following comments:
Public Profile of the Approval Bodies
8. It is very clear from the customer letters
Sainsbury's receives that the majority of those members of the
public who have concerns about genetic modification are unaware
of the process through which genetically modified foods have to
pass before being approved as safe for sale on the market. They
are often unaware of the existence of the Advisory Committee on
Releases into the Environment (ACRE) and the Advisory Committee
on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) let alone their remit and
the effort that is put in to the whole approval process.
9. Even when customers are aware of the approval
process, very few seem to know that the minutes of proceedings
of ACRE and ACNFP are published and openly available. This apparent
lack of transparency and openness creates an impression of having
something to hide or, worse still, a belief that the process is
10. We believe the approval bodies should adopt
a higher profile with the aim of helping the general public to
take a more informed view of genetic modification. For example
we would suggest improving the accessibility of the language style
used in minutes and other public documents so that whether or
not the readers have technical knowledge, they can comprehend
the information published. Another improvement would be the inclusion
of details of those foodstuff rejected by the Committee and the
Co-ordination between the various approval bodies
11. Each approval body has a specific remit
to address approval from a different perspective e.g., food safety,
or environmental safety. There appears to be no over arching body
responsible for taking a more strategic overview of the foodstuffs
being approved and the broader impact their approval might have
from an agricultural, environmental and consumer perspective.
We believe that the work of the approval bodies should be better
co-ordinated to ensure that any gaps that may exist in their responsibilities
are identified and addressed.
12. Approval bodies should be empowered either
to require those choosing to bring the technology to market to
provide appropriate consumer information about the technology
or to run an effective public information campaign. Currently
retailers, who have no involvement in the development of the technology
nor in the approval of specific products, seek to fill in some
of the information gaps for their customers in an attempt to help
them to make an informed choice about the products they are buying.
All parties have a responsibility to inform consumers and retailers
alone should not be looked at to meet this obligation.
13. The EU and UK Government are already looking
at introducing regulatory requirements for the monitoring of approved
products once introduced to market. We support this approach.
In advance of mandatory requirements, approval bodies could play
a part in encouraging voluntary measures to be adopted by producers.
14. I hope these comments are helpful. Please
let me know if the Committee requires any further information.
Public Affairs Manager
15 June 1998