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.