DIRECT NEWS: Retailers reject Govt plea for data

Major supermarkets have scorned a controversial approach from the Government to share customer data for research into genetically modified food.

Major supermarkets have scorned a controversial approach from the

Government to share customer data for research into genetically modified


The Government wants to use information on customers’ buying habits

gained from supermarket loyalty cards to gauge opinion on genetically

modified products. It has made the proposition, which is likely to fall

foul of the Data Protection Act, to Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Safeway -

which all have loyalty card schemes.

A spokesperson for Nick Brown, the Minister for Agriculture Food and

Fisheries, said: ’In the Government’s research into genetically modified

foods, an option is to use loyalty cards to judge buying patterns of

consumers, determine the quantities in which genetically modified foods

are bought and compare labelled products with unlabelled ones.’

All three supermarkets have told Campaign they will not co-operate with

the Government and abuse their customers’ trust. A spokesperson for

Sainsbury’s said: ’It is a daft idea which goes completely against the

promise of the Reward Card.’ Safeway and Tesco issued similar


A spokesperson for the Data Protection Registrar added: ’When a customer

takes out a loyalty card, it is so that they can be offered relevant

discounts and product information; Government research into health is an

entirely different matter.

’If the Government wanted explicit transactional data involving the name

and address of the customer, the Data Protection Act would come into the


The Ministry of Agriculture has suggested compromising by only taking

details of the card holder’s postcode. However, this too could

contravene the Data Protection Act, as many remote addresses have a

unique postcode by which a customer could be identified.

If the Government is allowed to pursue the scheme, it will have to bear

the cost of contacting millions of UK loyalty card holders to ask their

permission to use data.

The MAFF spokesman continued: ’Our research and its findings won’t shape

Government policy, and we do not intend to tell supermarkets what they

can or can’t stock, and how they should display genetically modified


Ultimately, if the supermarkets or the consumers aren’t happy with us

gaining access to this information, then our plan to gain data in this

way will not go through.’


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