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Robert Vint | 04.07.2004 02:56 | Bio-technology

Farmers park three tractors outside Barnstaple store as shoppers label GM milk

Tractors at Barnstaple
Tractors at Barnstaple

Hiow to label produce of GM-fed animals (Barnstaple Sainsbury's)
Hiow to label produce of GM-fed animals (Barnstaple Sainsbury's)

In a follow-up to yesterday's amazing Sainsbury's depot blockades [respect to you all], Devon farmers parked three tractors with banners in front of Sainsbury's in Barnstaple whilst shoppers labelled Sainsbury's dairy products as “produce of GM-fed animals”. This was probably our best ever supermarket action – with strong support from customers and the regional media and a very reasonable response (after initial panic) from the manager.

Before the action our tractors hid round the corner, where TV and radio reporters interviewed us about what we were going to do. Shoppers provided them with footage showing how to do their own labelling of the GM dairy products that Sainsbury's have forgotton to label (pic). The tractors entered the car park by different routes and were positioned directly under the Sainsbury's sign in about 45 seconds, then were decked with banners declaring: “Farmers say: Fair Prices & GM-Free Milk” (pic). Local farmer Hector Christie climbed on his tractor roof and addressed shoppers through a megaphone as another 25 campaigners – and a pink cow - surveyed shoppers (90% agreed that GM feed should not be used and that small farmers deserved better prices from supermarkets) and handed out the new leaflet from the farmer and activist alliance:

The manager initially explained that protests could only be held with advance appointment and that we would have to leave and arrange with them to come another day. We told him that that would be rather inconvenient and we would have to stay. When we were told that the police would be called we explained that the TV reporters outside would find that most exciting – at which point they changed their minds. After we gave the manager our press release (below) and media coverage of the national depot blockades he disappeared for 40 minutes to talk to head office. He then invited two of us to discuss the issues with him.We explained that stopping using GM feed would be good PR, good for sales and would fit with their policy of selling more organic and local food. Also it would mean we could go and harass Tesco instead. Whilst he said he could not possibly comment, it seemed clear he agreed with us. We thanked him for a most enjoyable protest and left after two hours. A fluffy day out for all the family – highly recommended.

Here's our Press Release...

Farmers park three tractors outside Barnstaple store as shoppers label GM milk

Farmers, consumers and food campaigners joined forces on Saturday to protest Sainsbury's policies on dairy products. They both want Sainsbury's to pay farmers fair prices for milk and to end the use of GM animal feed in milk production.
North Devon farmers, including Hector Christie and Matt Knight, parked their tractors outside the store, displaying banners stating “Farmers say: Fair Prices & GM-Free Milk” whilst shoppers placed GM labels on Sainsbury's unlabelled own-brand dairy products to enable consumer choice. Campaigners dressed as cows and handed out leaflets produced jointly by an alliance including four farmers organisations and four food and environment groups.

Robert Vint, co-ordinator of Genetic Food Alert, said “Farmers and shoppers are both being exploited by Sainsbury's, who are making an outrageous profit, are failing to inform customers and are failing to listen to their demands for GM-free food”

Sky McCain, Director of the Wholesome Food Association, said “Small farmers and their families deserve a decent livelihood. You and your family deserve good health. Say NO to GM animal feed and supermarket greed”

The protest came just one days after other members of the alliance paralysed Sainsbury's national milk distribution system in protest over the same issues. The alliance developed because environmental groups realise that sustainable agriculture in the UK depends upon the survival of small and family farms, whilst farmers realise that their best hope of flourishing is to provide the GM-free products that the public want to buy.

1. Sainsbury's promised in 2001 to “phase out the use of GM feed to the animals which produce their meat and dairy products”. They have still not given a deadline by which this will happen and do not label their dairy products as coming from GM-fed animals.
2. In recent years milk prices in supermarkets have risen to about 29p a pint – whilst their suppliers pay farmers about 5p a pint – less than the cost of production.
3. Marks & Spencer and the Co-op have stopped using GM feed.
4. The alliance of farmers, consumers and food campaigners includes: Farmers for Action, the Small and Family Farmers Alliance, the Small Farms Association, FARM, the Wholesome Food Association, the Institute of Science in Society, Genetic Food Alert and the Genetic Engineering Network.
5. For the national Sainsbury's blockade story see:
5. Professor Bob Orskov, OBE, Director of the International Feed Resource Unit (Aberdeen) has said “As a scientist, I wouldn't drink milk from cows fed GM with the present state of knowledge”. There have still been no independent long-term study of the effect of GM feed on cattle or of the effect of milk from GM-fed cows on humans. There is no liability legislation to compensate victims if harm is caused.

Robert Vint
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