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In the UK, only imported, prepared products are likely to contain GM soya derivatives such as the emulsifier, soya lecithin.

Whole, unprocessed GM soya beans have not been approved for consumption in Europe.

The first herbicide (glyphosate or Roundup) tolerant soya beans produced in the USA (by Monsanto) were approved for marketing in the EU - as processed beans only - in April 1996. Monsanto manufactures the herbicide and sells the soya beans. Roundup is considered by some to be an environmentally-acceptable herbicide due to its very quick breakdown in the soil. Others agrue that such a wide-spectrum herbicide could reduce the food supplies for non-pest animal species. As a wide-spectrum herbicide glyphosate cannot be used on non-modified soya plants.

Nutritionally there is no difference between genetically modified and unmodified beans. More than 60% of processed foods contain soya or soya products, although the majority of European food producers now obtain soya from certified non-GM sources.

Monsanto's 'Roundup Ready' soya has been the subject of considerable international opposition from the environmental campaigning organisation, Greenpeace.

Anti-GM soya card - Front
Anti-GM soya card - Back


In the late 1990s, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Genetic Engineering Network ran an anti-GM campaign targeted specifically at Unilever brands. At the time, however, Unilever was already phasing out GM-derived material from its UK products.

The campaign's credit card-sized notice (right) listed a wide range of Unilever products that could (but did not) contain material derived from GM soya. Only Batchelor's 'Beanfeast' and Vesta products contained GM soya, and both were labelled as such. Malcolm Walker, then chair of Iceland Foods and a prominent Greenpeace member, was quoted on the card, saying "This is Frankenstein's food!" [the term has been attributed to him, although it is of much earlier provenance]. The card also stated "Unilever, who produce all these brands, have started to experiment with genetically-engineered soya. Iceland will not". The design of the card bore a striking similarity to Iceland's own anti-GM literature.

Ironically, Walker lobbied for a 5% tolerance of GM material in food before it had to be labelled as containing GM (quoted in 'Pesticides News' and The Daily Express). This was greater than the mere 1% then under discussion in the European Commission and subsequently introduced (and later reduced to 0.9%).

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