The group used all the usual tricks, from farmers speaking from their tractor roofs outside stores, to the labelling of products, the leafleting of shoppers, the attending of Sainsbury's AGM and the running amok of various pantomime cows. The total of actions and demos is currently running at over 60 protests. Most spectacularly all five of Sainsbury's fresh food distribution depots were blockaded overnight and shut down for up to seven hours, at an estimated cost to the company of 3.7 million pounds.
A month after the blockade, and doubtless encouraged by Greenpeace's tandem anti-GM campaign against them, Sainsbury's announced that they would be trialling a range of non-GM fed milk. This is sold at five pence more than conventional milk and only in a limited selection of stores. Sainsbury's have made clear that its ethical policies will be based not on consumers stated beliefs about health or the environment but on what they actually pick off the shelf.
The Coalition wrote and asked to meet with Sainsbury's to start negotiating improvements. When the letter was ignored a selection of representatives from many of the signatory organizations visited the supermarkets headquarters in London. Security blocked them from entering and a push of door ensued, with besuited executives trying to hold back the rotating glass door on one side, and farmers in red boiler suits trying to swing it back the other way. The stand off ended in a two hour blockade of their main entrance, by the end of which the store had promised in writing to meet with the Coalition.
There have since been two meetings between the Coalition and Sainsbury's and more are promised. The negotiations are pretty unique. Not only has the campaign seen unprecedented solidarity and common ground emerging between farmers and activists, but those campaigners have then met directly with senior management to discuss their concerns about the firms policy. It's become clear that the Supermarket has had no direct communication with the farmers who supply its milk. They were unaware of the fact that many of their British producers work for far less than the minimum wage, and had never investigated whether their insurance covered the risks associated with GM animal feed. Their subsequent insistence that this information is commercially confidential seems to indicate that they don't have any cover for a product that neither they, or anyone else, has independent safety data on.
Whether they act on this new understanding is up to us now. The supermarket will be ending it's trial of the non-GM milk in mid February. They claim that since the labelling of the trial became clearer, and shoppers stopped picking up the range believing it to be the standard, that sales have fallen from 20% to 17%. However their conventional milk is not labelled as coming from GM-fed cows so their results have little meaning and may simply be used to justify ignoring consumer complaints. They will be undertaking their own surveying, but it's unlikely they'll be asking the really important questions. So we think it would be useful if we did. Attached is a five question survey to poll opinion amongst Sainsbury's shoppers. You simply ask them the questions, tick the responses and then get them to sign their section at the end. We need people to print off a dozen or so sheets, take them to their nearest Sainsburys and simply ask questions for an hour or so. Then put the completed surveys in an envelope and post them to:
Genetic Engineering Network,
PO Box 77,
We need them back before the 14th of February if we're to hand them over to Sainsburys in bulk before they finalize any decision. If you'd like Coalition leaflets to hand out to interested shoppers as you do so then please ring 01803 840098 and we'll send some off.
Thanks loads for your help.