Last week
Tesco, Unilever and Nestlé all came to the same conclusion about what their product
ranges should contain – or rather what they shouldn’t contain. They all
announced that genetically modified ingredients would be phased out from their retail
shelves or processing operations.

Tesco was the last of the
major UK supermarkets to settle on this policy. We don’t know for sure but perhaps
the final straw for the management was a recent survey of its customers which revealed
that over a quarter of them expressed a wish for no GMOs in their food. Furthermore, the
proportion was rising. It’s not clear what tipped those leading food companies,
Unilever and Nestlé, over the edge but it is clear that will not be the last food
manufacturers who have to consider the genetic status of what goes into their products.

The week before these
announcements a meeting was taking place in Brussels under the auspices of the TACD –
the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue. The TACD meetings have only recently been set up to
mirror the TABD – the Transatlantic Business Dialogue which have been going on for some
years now. The TABD has held regular meetings between officials and senior businessmen and
politicians from the EU and the US over the last four or five years. The TACD meeting
involved almost 100 consumer organisations from the EU and the US, and senior officials
from both sides of the pond. It finished the weekend before last and food was at the top
of its agenda.

The assembled delegates and
representatives put forward a long list of recommendations. The consumer organisations
present at the TACD left the EU’s Consumer Affairs Commissioner in no doubt as to
what they wanted. Top of the list was testing and mandatory labelling of GMOs. A total ban
on the use of antibiotics and growth hormones in animal production was also recommended,
and extensive use of the precautionary principle where scientific evidence was not
conclusive was also called for.

Will the TACD get
what it wants?

On the evidence of the actions taken by
Tesco, Unilever, and Nestlé it will – at least in the short term. Consumers have
discovered that their voices can be heard in the market place and in the corridors of
power. And it isn’t hard to find a plethora of sites on the web that inform or
collate this “consumer power”. Check them out if you want to get a flavour of
the interest and activity in this area. Food companies could do worse than just monitoring
these sites in order to see how their business decisions may be affected by consumer
lobbies.