Sainsbury's national blockade

Sainsbury's Birmingham blockade 1

Sainsbury's chilled food distribution centres were blockaded across the country on Thursday in protest against GM feed being fed to dairy cows. Sainsbury's five biggest UK distribution centres were shut down as environmentalists and consumers simultaneously blockaded the supermarket chain's chilled-goods depots in Essex, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol and Sheffield. They were chained together through steel tubes, or sat up scaffold tripods, blocking the depot gates. The co-ordinated action was intended to halt distribution of Sainsbury's dairy products that come from cows fed GM animal feed.

The protest follows Sainsbury's failure to provide non-GM fed milk as standard, despite rivals like Marks and Spencer and the Co-op doing so. The action was taken in solidarity with farmers, demanding they get a fair deal of 2p on the pound for non-GM milk. The coalition of groups campaigning on this issue includes Farmers for Action, the Small and Family Farmers Alliance, The Small Farms Association, the Wholesome Food Association, the Institute of Science in Society, Genetic Food Alert and the Genetic Engineering Network - see GM animal feed campaign:

Sainsbury's five biggest UK distribution centres have been shut down tonight. Environmentalists and consumers are simultaneously blockading the supermarket chain's chilled-goods depots in London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol and Sheffield. They are chained together through steel tubes, and sitting up "tripods" blocking the depot gates.

This co-ordinated action is intended to halt distribution of Sainsbury's dairy products that come from cows fed GM animal feed. The protest follows Sainsbury's failure to provide non-GM fed milk as standard, despite rivals like Marks and Spencer and the Co-op doing so. The action is taken in solidarity with farmers, demanding they get a fair deal of 2p on the pound for non-GM milk. Removing GM animal feed is the last step necessary to make Britain entirely GM-free

A protester explained:
"Neither farmers or consumers want GM in our food chain. Sainsbury's must keep their promise to phase out its use, and pay farmers properly so they can do so"

A farmer added:
"We are paid less for our milk than it costs to produce. GM is only adding to the crisis in our industry. We want an end to the exploitation of foreign farmers through GM, and an end to the exploitation of us by the supermarkets."

The protesters intend to stay until GM fed products are taken off Sainsbury's shelves. The police have been called but any arrests are likely to be seriously delayed by the demonstrator's chains and equipment. Following the sacking of chairman Sir Peter Davis, Sainsbury now has to face questions about justice - not only profits.


1.GM fed milk is currently unlabelled. The effects of GM on both cattle, and the people who then eat products from them, have never been tested by independent scientists.
2.Prof. Bob Orskov OBE, director of the International Feed Resource Unit in Aberdeen has said "As a scientist, I wouldn't drink milk from cows fed GM with the current state of knowledge".
3.In the face of public concern Sainsbury's pledged to phase out the use of GM in animal feed three years ago, but are now claiming they cannot for economic reasons.
4.The blockade is supported by a coalition of environmental and farmers groups for more information see
5.The 5 depots blockaded cover around 70% of Sainsbury's fresh food distribution network in the UK.
Sainsbury's Birmingham blockade 2
Sainsburys Birmingham blockade 3


Sainsbury's was blocked from 0130 am until 0700 am when the activists decided to call it a day. The protest was due to start at 11 o'clock pm as a coordinated national protest aimed at Sainsburys for supplying milk from GM fed cows, the action done in support of local farmers who have been campaigning for a better deal on their non GM contaminated milk.

The first timing was abandoned at Birmingham due to the Sainsbury's depot being heavily policed. On our approach we found road blocks preventing us access to the road that would lead us to our target. There was some cat and mouse as the transport we were using tried to lose the cars following us and get organised with a new plan. The group of about 40 decided that there had been too much time and effort put into this action to abandon it just because the police were at the seen and spurred on by news that Bristol, Liverpool and others had been blocked or were in different states of conflict with the police we didn’t want to be left out.

A new plan was hatched and the only option that we could come up with was to block the approach road that led to Sainsbury's. This had draw backs as a few other companies would be effected, we were aware that this would also block BMW, Nestle and a company making bulkheads for Landrovers that were heading to the Indonesian army (shame). However there were a few independent lorry drivers that were also affected and it was this that the activists took into account and decided to call time.

Two tripods were used to block one side of the dual carriageway and a strange multiple lock-on tube blocked the other side of the road; this took up a lot of space and worked well. The tripods and lock-on set went up very quick, so much so that even the police inspector commented at how efficient we all were and within minutes Lorries were backed up on the duel carriageway and down side roads, public cars were allowed to go through later which was negotiated early on with the police.

There were 12 people arrested, all when they either came down from tripods or unlocked themselves, one of which was in a wheel chair, disabled and locked on to the tripod legs!

The police inspector praised the protesters for the speed at which they deployed the tripods and lock-on tubes. He also commented how upset Sainsbury's was at being blocked in/out and were very unhappy at the situation. This obviously left the inspector in a difficult position as they were there to allow the smooth running of the Lorries.

Until next time

Videos at

East midlands Sainsbury's looking low on milk @ 11am on a friday. Leaflets distributed in the emptying shelves, more to be dropped off later ;-)
Anti-GM protestors shut down Sainsbury's vast state-of-the-art distribution centre at Waltham Point north of London last night. Lorries were turned away and protestors locked on to the main gates and used a steel arm tube ring to block deliveries and departures.

The protestors were part of a co-ordinated nationwide blockade which shut down all six of sainsbury's national distribution centres. Throughout the country, farmers joined with enviromental activists to hammer Sainsbury's for breaking their pledge not to use GM products. The protest targetted the use of GM feed for cows used in milk production for Sainsbury's, which shoppers are often not aware of. It is way of getting GM in through the back door.

The depot near London has only been open a few months and uses high-tech 'just-in-time' methods for loading and stock control. Six protestors formed a steel arm ring to block the 'goods in' gate, whilst two others locked on with D locks to the 'goods out' gate. Rattled Sainsbury's security guards were nonplussed, and helpfully closed the gates which were promptly padlocked by the demonstrators. As workers at the depot got over their shock, some expressed support for the action.

The depot was finally shut for 2 1/2 hours before heavy handed Essex police moved in and arrested the arm-locked protestors before dragging them away on wheeled pallets. After conferring with the plod, a boss instructed a worker to fetch a forklift load of plastic pallets with wheels on in a stack.( These are probably used to slide goods around the depot on). Then the coppers got these pallets, and slid one each under of us. Then they managed to role our whole 'ring of iron and people' out of the way. Later, the two D locked protestors voluntarily moved, and two others were assaulted by police when they tried to block a lorry entering. 8 arrests were made in total.


Sainsbury's giant M25 Waltham Point distribution centre in Essex was shut down in a dramatic anti-GM protest on Thursday night (1st July 2004). This was part of a nationwide night of blockades which closed all six of this food retail corporations major distribution centres around the country.

The Waltham Point centre is a giant mile long corrugated metal shed running parallel to the M25. From it a constant stream of articulated lorries flows out to the whole of London, the South East and East Anglia. The blockade started at 11pm and lasted for two and a half hours, before the police were finally able to remove and then arrest us. For a while, we stopped the corporate juggernaut. No lorries were able to enter or leave Sainsbury's brand new state of the art complex. Other blockades around the country lasted for many more hours.

We were doing this to protest at Sainsbury's continued use of milk from GM fed dairies, breaking its pledge to its customers not to use GM products in its food. This is one more illustration of the true attitudes of the owners and key figures within the Sainsbury's empire. For the major owners of this corporation have also also positioned themselves at the heart of the governmental/corporate complex still attempting to push forward GM crops.

So at 11pm we chained ourselves together in a circle in front of the entrance to Waltham Point, our arms locked into heavy iron tubes to prevent our easy or speedy removal. Others locked themselves onto the gates with D locks on their necks. Later another two protesters were aggressively manhandled by police as they blockaded a lorry.

Eventually we were all removed forcibly from our ring of iron by the police. Three from London and six from Colchester were then arrested and taken to local police stations. Here we were held in the cells for the next 15 hours for questioning, before being released on bail.

While we lay in the road, supporting protesters relayed us news about the successful simultaneous blockades at Sainsbury's other five biggest giant new 'fulfillment factory' distribution centres in Merseyside, South Yorkshire, the West Midlands and Bristol.

Webs of resistance spun across depot entrances throughout the country. Here was a demonstration of the power of non-violent direct action to shut down the multi-million pound distribution network of a giant corporation.

Waltham Point in Essex is one of the biggest of the new automated distribution centres in Europe. It is the size of 10 football pitches put together, and is estimated to feed more than 80 stores and handle 2.6 million cases a week, being the base of 200 trucks and 300 trailers. This cost £70 million to develop and is the largest of Sainsbury's new fully automated centres it calls its 'Fulfillment Factories'. The corporation is developing around just eight of these giant 'just in time' fast flowing perishable and quick turnover goods centres, closing its 21 older, smaller, less automated centres.

And on that night we were suddenly able to block the flow of Lord Sainsbury's river of profits, on the very same day as the Sainsbury's chairman resigned and the companies shave value plunged.

We lay down and cut off the vast hulk of its 'fulfillment factory' from its dedicated connection onto the nearby M25 and its ceaseless orbital flow of all the things in the world, uprooted, commodified and caught in the whirlwind of the global market.
It is a world-wind that is transforming how we grow, manufacture and consume our food. This changes the relationship between agriculture, technology and ecology. It is part the latest stage of an epochal global shift away from peasant production to global commodity production and an industrialised and privatised ecology.

In the last decades those who have been separated from the land and corralled into vast conurbations and shanty towns now form the majority of the worlds people.

The development of GM crops by the worlds giant chemical corporations is a key part of this process. In the fantasies of venture capitalists, investors and company executives, nature could be reduced to a simple code and therefore could now be reprogrammed to suit corporate needs.

The corporations are pushing this technology while vast areas of scientific uncertainty still remain about its environmental and health effects. For they have also begun to privatise science, enclosing its commons as their ' intellectual property'. They are appropriating it as the new engine of their 'knowledge economy'. Thus they are limiting its field of vision by driving out any critical and independent scientific voices.
Lord Sainsbury is a key figure in this process in the UK. He is Tony Blair's multi-billionaire Minister for Science and Innovation. He is the man in charge of promoting biotechnology at the UK's Department of Trade and Industry. He has responsibility for science funding and research policy, and is also a key player on the governments powerful 'Sci-Bio' GM cabinet committee. He is also a key investor in GM research and the largest single donor to the Labour party, giving it £9 million pounds in five years alone between 1996 and 2001.

Lord Sainsbury is also the head of the family that form the major owners of the Sainsbury's supermarket chain. He personally owns 13% of the corporation, or £1.3 billion worth of shares, which give him tens of millions of pounds annually in dividends, while his family own another 35%. His network of supporters also own substantial amounts of shares, such as the CEO of one of his biotech companies, who owns 5%. Lord Sainsbury was the chairman of the Sainsbury corporation right up until his elevation into Science Minister by Blair in 1998.

As Britain's third richest man Lord Sainsbury has ploughed substantial amounts of the billions yielded to him by the Sainsbury's supermarket chain into developing genetic modification technologies. He himself owns two biotech companies, one which owns a patent on a fundamental process used in GM crops. His other firm yielded him an extra £20 million in increased share value from GM research in just two years.

His has also created the Sainsbury Laboratory for GM research in Norwich through a combination of his governmental and private funding resources. Thus he privately funds his Laboratory with millions every year from his 'Gatsby' charitable foundation supported by £200 million of Sainsbury shares. At the same time, since becoming science minister, he has overseen a massive 300% increase in his government department's funding for his Laboratory, channeling £1.2 million per year of public money into it. The leading scientists and eminent professors employed by this network of public and private patronage are also amongst the leading 'impartial' scientific advocates of the technology and its alleged harmlessness.

Sainsbury's is caught in a contradiction. It wants to reassure consumers, made wary and sceptical in the UK after years of food safety scandals, that its food is really wholesome and 'natural'. Like other supermarkets it therefore promotes 'GM free' as a selling point. Yet it is also enmeshed within a network of corporate, investment and political interests that have bought into and are promoting the whole GM project. Thus it had carried on using milk from GM fed dairies, while consumers rejected it and other retailers have phased it out.

Thursday 1st July 2004 was the day it launched its special, limited 'GM free milk' product range in 105 selected stores. This range will be priced higher than the rest of its milk, (but of course farmers will not be passed on this premium). It is aimed at making 'GM free' a more expensive, specialist marketing brand, rather than a universal right for all. It hopes that this will ultimately open the door for more GM.

Our 1st July nationwide blockade of Sainsburys 'fulfillment factories' happened on an auspicious day for another reason. Earlier on that day Sainsbury's had warned that its profits for this year would be "significantly below" expectations. This lead to the value of Sainsbury's shares falling steeply, by 8.7%, and the sudden resignation of the current company chairman, Sir Peter Davis. He was facing a shareholders rebellion against his £2.4 million bonus while profits and market share were falling. All this was happening in the hours running up to the blockade.

Sainbury's supermarket chain is in a crisis. Until the mid 1990s it was Britain's largest supermarket chain. Since then, it has fallen behind its rivals Tesco and Asda and is now challenged by the merged Morrisons / Safeway group. This crisis is despite the multi-billion pound update of its 'fulfillment factory' distribution network. Institutional shareholders are up in arms, with an internal battle over strategy. The trigger for the chairmans resignation on July 1st was his £2.4 million bonus, which angered powerful institutional investors because it did not reflect the companies poor performance. Of course, they are not worried about the workers. For at the same time, Sainsbury's announced it is axing its Christmas bonus to its 100,000 full time staff: "This is a £2 million-plus award which will do Sir Peter very nicely while 15% of Sainsbury's staff missed out on a pay rise and the Christmas bonus scheme is being cut," said the Transport and General Workers Union.

As the companies annual general meeting approaches, demands are rising for Sainsbury's to; stop using GM fed dairy and animal products, and stop investing in GM; Pay the farmers a decent price for their milk and other products; Stop their attempts to make their workers pay for their companies crisis, for this is a crisis that is caused by the greed of the rich in a globalising capitalism.
The July 1st blockade also stands as a metaphor for a larger battle. This is the society wide blockade of the corporate multinationals GM agenda. In 1996 the corporations launched GM crops onto the market. It was expected that the UK would be covered with them in a year. Yet after eight years of resistance the corporate agri-biotech machine is cracking.

The Bayer corporation have retreated, withdrawing their only product approved for growing in the UK. Now, no GM will be grown commercially in the UK for many years, if at all. Monsanto and other GM corporations are also in retreat. GM crops are becoming increasingly discredited and obsolete.

Veteran campaigner Jim Thomas writes of eight years of: "raw, direct, popular opposition" in the UK which has managed to:

"- remove GM ingredients from all human foods sold in the UK.
- remove GM ingredients from pretty much all poultry and pig feed in the UK.
- reduce the number of UK GM crop field trials from hundreds of locations per year to currently one.
- cause Monsanto to leave the UK, stopping further breeding work here.
- reduce the number of GM varieties seeking government approval from almost sixty varieties down to a remaining two that have no chance of being legally grown.
- acted as a catalyst, inspiring campaigners and activists to challenge GM crops around the world."

The UK has seen one of the most sustained campaigns of direct action and popular campaigning in recent history. Year after year, night after night, the GM crops were pulled up by local villagers and environmental activists. All this effort has shown the way to victory. Jim adds:

"Campaigners rarely get the satisfaction of so clearly winning - a win for the thousands and thousands of people who spent cold nights pulling up crops, long weekends talking to shoppers and farmers and years of emotional and intellectual energy countering the bullying, lobbying power and financial clout of the gene giants".

The battle still is not won. The corporations have invested billions in developing GM crops.. Chemical corporations like Monsanto have taken a massive gamble and transformed themselves into GM seed companies.

Biotechnology was, along with information technology, supposed to be the herald of a new epoch of capitalism, a solution to its deepening period of crisis. In the 1970's chemical corporations like Monsanto saw the promise of an escape from the contradictions of the petro-chemical epoch. They dreamed they could leap ahead of the competition with rDNA technology. This would be the generator of wealth in the new 'knowledge economy'.

The reproductive capacity of nature would form a new means of production. Life was just a code and could now reprogrammed to suit corporate needs. New chemicals and pharmaceuticals could be grown in plants, rather than manufactured by workers in factories as part of the troubled petro-chemical complex. And thus these very plant species, wherever they reproduced themselves, their seeds would be the privatized and patented intellectual property of the corporations.

And first, they would flood the world with the most simple and crude product of this new knowledge, - crops engineered to be resistant to their own brand herbicides. These would be the heralds of the new bio-tech epoch.

Yet the contradictions of GM are proving more difficult to manage. GM technologies bring together such incommensurate timescales. They intervene in millions of years of evolutionary time, in ways as yet dimly understood. At the same time, corporations have never been governed by more short-term aims of dancing to the ever increasing rhythms of competition on the world market, where billions of dollars can shift in micro-seconds.

The scientific questions this radically new 'gene-splicing' technology raises will take decades to answer, questions ranging from the real role of DNA, the effects of scrambling it, and the long term consequences for human health and the eco-system.

Yet the massive institutional investors, who were so dazzled by the promise spun to them by scientists in the 1980's, (the dream of a second, privatised genesis), have now waited over twenty years for a return on their investment. This is all they can bare. They want a return on their capital soon. Unless firms like Monsanto can give them that, they will die. So the battle will intensify, as the US/EU WTO dispute over GMOs testifies. GM crops came onto the market in the mid 1990's, along with the WTO and neo-liberal globalisation. And resistance has grown to both.

The anti-GM resistance has shown its power. It is possible to stop GM crops. The multinational corporations agenda does not represent an inevitable and unstoppable line of 'progress'. Resistance can stop them, and open up the possibility of alternative paths of progress. These are the paths to a more sustainable, equal and just world.


Sainsbury's Rotherham Depot Blockade Report
At 11.00pm on Thursday activists from South Yorkshire descended on Sainsbury's distribution depot in Brinsworth, Rotherham. This depot was targeted because it is one of the five major distribution depots in the country, servicing an area stretching as far away as Manchester and Birmingham. The entrance road was blocked by activists dressed as fluorescent clad road workers holding authentic looking "stop" signs. Once the Sainsbury's lorries had been brought to a standstill the tripod contingent emerged onto the road and smoothly set up the tripod securing the blockade. This single tripod covered the whole of the road effectively blocking both incoming stock to the depot and its subsequent distribution to stores around the North of England.

The Sainsbury's depot managers quickly came out to assess the situation and lorries were diverted to a lorry park near the M1. The drivers were good natured about the whole prospect of being waylaid for some time! While there was no other entrance or exit for the lorries, staff in cars could get into the depot from the other direction over a small bridge that could not take the weight of the lorries. The in coming staff were no doubt also surprised to find that there wasn't going to be much work to do that night.

The local police were informed of the blockade but refused to come to the area until activists had given their names and addresses (ho,ho,ho)??? Eventually a single squad car turned up and threatened the activists with arrest and cut down the anti-gm banners with a pocket knife. Despite these threats and the increasing amount of police cars and vans arriving on the scene (who in turn helped us block the road), there were no arrests. The blockade was sustained in good humour until approximately 5am when the activists dismantled the blockade and headed home. Walking back down the road they were tooted by the Sainsbury's lorries as they descended on mass from the lorry park. All in all, a good night.... and apparently the shelves in a local store were still partially empty on Friday afternoon, so imagine what the shelves were like further a field!
Sainsburys Merseyside blockade 2
Sainsburys Merseyside blockade 1

A successful, 4 hour, no arrest, no equipment lost blockade with plenty of support from Sainsbury's packers and drivers...protesting GM crop fed milk in Sainsbury's.

A 30 strong posse of protesters headed by a variety of routes to the Sainbury's distribution depot by the Haydock roundabout on the M6.

We turned up and locked together in a 7 strong arm-tube circle in front of the main gate. An emergency gate was simultaneously blockaded by a car and a motorcycle lock. The main gate was also locked up with D-locks. Several people with flouro jackets and stop signs stopped and talked to lorry drivers while others informed security of the situation.

We got loads of support from Sainsbury's workers & drivers, due to get paid overtime for as long as we delayed operations, and the atmosphere was great - no rain, a great support crew and Radio Merseyside keeping us entertained. The police turned up after an hour, clearly unprepared to deal with the technical difficulties in removing us and we left at our agreed time of 3am, after many hours of negotiation. No one was arrested, no one's details were taken and we didn't lose any equipment. Sadly we forgot the kryptonite locks that were still locking both gates when we left. Sorry boys you might need that cutting equipment after all - we think it will have taken them at least another 20 minutes to get them off.

We'd been told that every hour we stopped operations at our depot would cost Sainsbury's £100,000 - £150,000, so we'll probably have cost them about half a million. The knock-on effect should see shelves looking fairly empty from this afternoon and into Saturday.

There will be video footage available shortly from Beyond TV ( and others.

Good night, high spirits, no arrests and a huge tailback of sainsbury's lorries.

At 11am, as part of a national blockade, a coalition of farmers and anti-GM activists blockaded the Bristol Sainsbury's main distribution depot in a protest against both GM-Animal feed in the food chain and the company's treatment of small farmers.

A police checkpoint is in place at the Sainsburys's distribution depot in Emerson's Green, Bristol. Despite the police presence, a collation of farmers and regional anti-GM activists manages to secure a lock-on blockade at the only entrance to the depot around 11pm. It is finally ended by the activists at 5.35am after deciding we'd achieved our aims.