An Interview with Fritz Konz, Head of Quality and Environment at German supermarket, tegut…

For German supermarket chain, tegut… , a family business in operation for more than 70 years, sustainability in its many and diverse forms is a vital principle.  Tegut… is a growing brand, with over 300 supermarkets across six federal states in Germany. It has a broad range of over 23,000 products and has a distinct focus on fresh, local products, especially organic – with over 4,600 organic products. 

For tegut… Non-GMO is important to them and to their customers. ENGA explored this and more with the company’s Head of Quality and Environment, Fritz Konz, who was a speaker at the International Non-GMO Summit, which took place in Frankfurt in May this year. 

Fritz began by outlining why Non-GMO products are so important for tegut… “GMO-free is a core requirement of our understanding of good food. For all our own brands, we follow a strict GMO-free policy. In our view, the risks outweigh the benefits, especially in green genetic engineering, so we do not want to promote the use of genetic engineering and do not accept the use of genetically modified plants for the production of our private brands,” he explains.

The risks of GMOs 

Fritz elaborates: “Nature is an open system and changes to it cannot be reversed. In the wild, genetically modified plants seed, reproduce and cross-pollinate. Natural equilibrium is disturbed when accelerated mutations make it impossible for the environment to adapt. Plants are our basis of life and should not be the subject of patents. Monocultures, which in combination with total herbicides put biodiversity under pressure, do not offer a solution to the challenge of food security. We reject processes that have not been clearly researched and may pose a potential health risk to humans and a danger to our ecosystems. This applies to food and animal feed.”

Non-GMO – a basic requirement 
All of the items in tegut…’s range are produced without genetically modified ingredients that require labeling. Fritz says: “All suppliers must guarantee that the goods do not contain any genetically modified food ingredients, additives, or other substances. In the case of foods of animal origin, the absence of genetic engineering in the feeding of animals is a basic requirement for our own brands. Judging by the success and recognition of our private labels, I would say that this issue is very important to our customers. We are repeatedly told (by our customers) that they do not want any genetic engineering in their food. We see that even brands in the entry-level price segment advertise GMO-free products wherever possible. In my view, we are already talking about a basic requirement.” 

Consumer awareness of Non-GMO 

Fritz comments that the awareness of GM amongst consumers is mixed and he believes that this is “due to the complexity and the lack of labeling of the use of genetic engineering in the feeding of animals,” therefore: “customers are not as aware of the issue as they could be. Even when talking directly to people, they often seem surprised when I explain that GMO-free animal products are not a matter of course.”

Labelling can have a role to play when it comes to customer awareness and decision making. “I think labels can influence customer decisions, but more important for us is credible assurance for our requirements. After all, our customers trust us to provide them with good, GMO-free products,” says Fritz. 

Non-GMO is one of tegut…’s key sustainability factors, which, are driving force for the supermarket. Fritz explains: “The way we - as a society - provide ourselves with food affects a number of issues that also merge into each other, including climate, preserving biodiversity, protecting soils, dealing with water, human rights, and animal welfare.” 

The future for Non-GMO food in Europe?

Fritz believes that when it comes to food production and its sustainability and security, we are currently at a crossroads in Europe. “My hope is that we, as a continent, will continue to focus on sensible regulation, even if it seems too strict to some voices. I do not believe that genetic engineering is the answer to food security,” he elaborates. 

Specifically, he is concerned about the current legislation on New Genomic Techniques – proposed by the European Commission and currently making its way through the EU law making process.  Fritz explains: “With the present proposal, customers have no real freedom of choice and the EU's precautionary principle is bypassed. It is not clear to me why labeling on the product is being dispensed with. We talk about transparency on all sides and here it is to be dissolved. I also don't understand the argument that the properties of a plant could have arisen naturally and that it therefore makes no difference whether they were created with CRISPR Cas or with natural crossing.”

“The way we approach things is important: it is the process that counts, not only the result. We value with students that they do their homework themselves, not through AI, even if the end result is the same. Against this background, the new proposal should make it clear that properties of plants that could have arisen naturally are not patentable. As I understand it, we have legislation in force now that also allows breeding with new genetic engineering techniques, the plants are subject to the precautionary principle that means have to be risk assessed before they enter the market and then to be labelled to consumers. Legislation must ensure that breeding progress is not hindered by absurd patents, so that small and medium-sized growers can also participate.” 

Find out more about tegut… here: