Food Firms Pledge to Keep Chinese Products GE Free

GUANGZHOU, China, July 22, 2003 (ENS): For the first time food producers in China have publicly committed themselves not to sell genetically modified food. Thirty-two food companies producing 53 brands have agreed to sell only food products that are free of transgenic ingredients, the result of a campaign by Greenpeace China.

The 32 producers sent formal statements to Greenpeace confirming they do not use genetically engineered (GE) ingredients in their products sold in China.

Greenpeace China campaigner Sze Pang-cheung said Friday, "Transnational food companies are learning the lesson. There is a heavy price to pay for applying double standards to Chinese consumers."

Several well known brand names are among the 32 food producers promising not to use genetically modified ingredients in their products sold in China including Lipton, Wrigley, Wyeth and Mead Johnson. These companies are also selling foods free of genetically modified ingredients in other countries.

The local companies include large soy sauce producers in southern China, such as Pearl River Bridge, Lee Kum Kee and Amoy, as well as a major soymilk brand, Vitasoy.

Last July, the Chinese government introduced compulsory labeling of transgenic food. More recently it has stepped up measures to enforce the labeling legislation by conducting a nationwide inspection. Agriculture officials emphasised that producers selling unlabeled products containing genetically modified ingredients would be penalized.

The food companies committing to foods free of transgenic ingredients benefit from a new government policy introduced in March which commits to keeping soy production in northeast China traditional. China is the world's fourth largest soy producer.

The majority of Chinese consumers do not want genetically engineered foods, Sze says, and the Chinese government is taking the consumer's right to choose seriously.

Greenpeace China released the country's first survey of consumer attitudes to transgenic foods in January. The survey, conducted by Zhongshan University in December 2002, showed that a majority of people questioned would choose food free of genetically modified ingredients, and many would be willing to pay more for it.

A majority of 87 percent of those surveyed wanted genetically engineered food products to be labeled.

"The choice for food producers is either to label their genetically engineered products and face consumer rejection, or to risk violating the regulation by covering up the true nature of their products," said Sze. "Companies simply have to make the right decision for consumers, the environment and their business interests."

When Greenpeace China revealed Nestle's overseas practice of selling genetically modified foods, including baby food, in China and other Asian countries, the Swiss based company's "double standards" met with angry reactions from Chinese consumers who returned products to Nestle, Sze said.

According to Sze, the consumption of foods free of genetically engineered ingredients is a growing trend in China. He is urging more companies to address consumers' concerns about GE food. These concerns include fear of food allergies triggered by modified proteins in transgenic foods, and concerns that modified foods might be less nutritious or more toxic than traditionally cultivated crops.

In 2002, genetically modified crops were cultivated on some 59 million hectares globally. Ninety-nine percent of these crops were grown in four countries: the USA with 66 percent, Argentina with 23 percent, Canada with six percent, and China with four percent.

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