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Wednesday, 10 May, 2000, 04:49 GMT 05:49 UK
Stores criticised for GM-free leaflets
store
Finding GM-free food is not straightforward for shoppers
By consumer affairs correspondent Karen Bowerman

Two leading supermarkets have been criticised for misleading consumers over food safety in leaflets promoting their own organic and GM-free food.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has said Iceland played on customers' fear of genetically-modified (GM) food in a brochure promoting its own GM-free products.

And it attacked Tesco for exaggerating the advantages of organic food, in a brochure promoting its own organic range.

Both stores have stopped distributing the leaflets and Tesco has apologised, although Iceland is challenging the ruling.

Iceland was the first supermarket to ban genetically-modified ingredients from its own brand products.

The move, in 1998, prompted other stores to follow suit.

But now the chain has been criticised for making misleading and unsubstantiated claims about GM food, and for playing on peoples' fears about the health risks associated with it.

Plant virus

The leaflet in question was one which promoted its own GM-free products.

The advertising watchdog honed in on several points made under headings such as Is genetic modification safe? and What are the risks?

The leaflet, referring to GM soya, said some was modified with material from a virus - without making it clear that it was talking about a plant virus harmless to humans.

It also warned about another type of GM soya which it said had to be withdrawn after it was found to cause a reaction in people allergic to nuts.

The store failed to mention that the tests carried out were not done on humans.

They were actually carried out on blood serum.

Iceland, however, says the leaflet was not even an advert, and should never have come under the ASA's ruling.

The ASA disagrees, saying the brochure begins with a letter from Iceland, which includes lines promoting its own GM-free products. It says it stands by its ruling.

The UK's leading supermarket Tesco came under attack for a leaflet it produced on its own organic food.

The literature was criticised for misleading consumers by implying organic farming did not involve chemicals when it sometimes does, for saying organic food tastes nicer than conventional food without providing 'convincing evidence' to prove it and for implying organic products cost only a "little" bit more.

Tesco has apologised for its leaflet, which has since been withdrawn. It says it was designed to educate customers, not mislead them. The company declined to be interviewed by the BBC.

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