The NFU has expressed grave reservations about the latest moves by some of the major supermarkets to sell meat and animal products from animals reared on non-GM animal feed.

The move – which the NFU believes is not based on any scientific evidence – threatens to put a major cost burden on already hard-pressed farmers.

The NFU fears the danger of disruption to British meat supplies is so great that it has called for Agriculture Minister Nick Brown to immediately call a food chain meeting to discuss matters and ask retailers to suspend any proposals.

The NFU is conducting a study in conjunction with Sainsbury’s to establish the true costs and sustainability of securing non-GM animal feed.

NFU President Ben Gill said: “It is one thing for the retailers to offer consumers choice by developing lines of products produced from animals fed on non-GM feed but it is quite another for them to require the same for all meat products.

“We welcome the approach taken by Sainsbury’s and value their partnership in producing this report.

“We believe that the results of this study will be of benefit and interest to the whole of the food industry.”

The concerns follow an announcement by Marks & Spencer that it will be increasing the range of products that it sells reared on non-GM animal feed to now include fresh beef, lamb and chicken. Tesco has already written to suppliers outlining a similar programme with an announcement also made by Asda today.

Mr Gill said: “Research shows that GM material is broken down naturally when eaten by animals into its component parts, which are the same as the components of non GM crops.

“Supplies of guaranteed GM-free feed ingredients are limited and a sudden increase in demand, on top of the increase in demand for vegetable protein caused by Europe banning the use of MBM in pig and poultry rations, can only lead to higher costs for farmers.

“If a retailer states it will absorb these unknown but substantial costs it should make its commitment through legally binding undertakings to its suppliers.

“We are deeply concerned that the current intentions of several British supermarkets will disrupt the supply of British meat to the consumer.”

He added: “It will also be difficult logistically for farmers to use GM-free feed for animals going to some customers while using existing feeds for other animals going to other customers without very significant costs.

“We would also question how imported meat products which may be sold by the retailers will be policed to ensure they meet the same standards as those demanded here.”