Government plan to track GM food using supermarket loyalty cards

The UK Government is planning to use supermarket loyalty cards to help investigate the possible health impacts of eating genetically modified (GM) food, according to environmental group Friends of the Earth.

Official minutes show that discussions have already taken place with Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Safeway who have “agreed in principle”. The move will undermine confidence in the claim that there are no health concerns associated with GM food.

The plans are outlined in the latest minutes (10 December) of the Government’s official Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP). Information on GM foods would be made available “in a form that can be analysed on a product by product basis at postcode level.”

Using health databases the information would be used to find out whether eating GM foods is linked to illness. The study would specifically look for increases in childhood allergies, cancer, birth defects and hospital admissions.

There are around 30 million loyalty card-carrying customers in the UK. Customers are told that information gathered with the cards will not be passed on to third parties.

“If the Government is so concerned over the health impacts of genetically modified foods they shouldn’t be introducing them, ” said Pete Riley, Food Campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “Supermarket customers will be outraged to discover that they are to be part of a massive public health experiment on GM foods. Despite the fact that their customers have made it clear that they don’t want supermarkets to sell GM foods, it is clear that they are not only being ignored; but their loyalty is being abused as well. Supermarkets must decide whose interests they are protecting: their customers or the big biotech firms?”

The Government is also planning a pro-GM publicity campaign with leading supermarkets. Last week Friends of the Earth revealed that the Government had discussed the possibility of running a pro-GM food video campaign at supermarket checkouts.

Friends of the Earth has also criticised the Government for allowing Science Minister Lord Sainsbury to be involved with decisions over GM food. Lord Sainsbury has various links with the GM food industry.

In October a NOP survey for Friends of the Earth revealed that 58 per cent of supermarket customers did not want their supermarkets to sell GM food.

Although GM products are widely available in supermarkets, they are banned in the House of Commons’ restaurants, according to the Overseas Development Institute.

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