Consumers push GM food off shelves
But some companies, two of which are being targeted by Greenpeace, are still using the controversial technology
BY Heike Phillips Environment Reporter
South China Morning Post
June 17, 2003

Consumer opposition to food containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients may be pushing the controversial technology out of the market - but two international companies appear to be bucking the trend.

With the exception of Nestle's Pak Fook Fresh Soya Milk and Beancurd Dessert, and Hong Chi's Yung Ho Soya Milk, quantities of GM ingredients in common foodstuffs tested by the Consumer Council were "substantially lower" than those in a similar test three years ago. "With the exception of three products , the test data clearly indicates the amount of GM ingredients being used in food products is generally on the decline," said Connie Lau Yin-hing, head of the Consumer Council's research and survey division.

Out of 26 products sampled, 12 contained GM soya. Less than 0.1 per cent of GM soya was found in tofu, beancurd dessert and soya milk samples, while soya infant formula samples contained between 0.1 per cent and 0.2 per cent. No GM corn or GM potato varieties were detected in any of the samples.

The latest results continue the trend established in tests last month, which for the most part found only miniscule percentages of GM ingredients in 20 out of 57 samples of noodles, potato chips and corn chips that tested positive for GM content. Tests three years earlier had shown GM soy levels of between 10 and 30 per cent and GM corn of up to 9 per cent.

"We believe consumers are playing a part in putting the pressure on traders to use more non-GM food," Ms Lau said.

Meanwhile, anti-GM campaigners yesterday targeted two companies that appear to be bucking this trend. Labelling the named products in a local supermarket, Greenpeace activists branded Nestle a "habitual sinner" and Hong Chi a "shameless liar", claiming both companies had broken their promise on limiting GM content in their products.

Greenpeace campaigner Sze Pang-cheung said: "Nestle wrote to us a couple of years ago saying they would try to reduce the GM content as much as possible. Now Nestle's headquarters in Switzerland says the promise was Dairy Farms', but in their letter of February 8, 2002 it clearly refers to Nestle."

Mr Sze said six tests conducted on Nestle's Pak Fook products between 1999 and 2002 turned out to be GM positive. In the Consumer Council's most recent tests, Nestle's Pak Fook Fresh Soya Milk and Beancurd Dessert were found to contain 0.1 per cent GM content. Mr Sze said a similar promise had been made for Yung Ho Soya Milk. " Hong Chi wrote last year that 'out of a desire to protect consumers' health and respect their rights', they had 'all along insisted on using non-GM ingredients'."

Hong Chi's Yung Ho Soya Milk topped the charts of samples testing positive for GM content, with 70 per cent of the product being GM material.

A spokesman for Jusco Stores, in whose Taikoo Shing branch the protest took place, said the company was discussing an internal policy on GM products. "We are also checking with our suppliers - those that Greenpeace labelled and also other suppliers - on their food products," she said.

The Consumer Council supports mandatory labelling so consumers can make an informed decision. The government argues there is no international consensus on the issue and a mandatory system would be too big a financial burden for the food trade to carry. It has proposed a system of voluntary labelling and safety assessments. The Legislative Council will debate a motion for mandatory labeling on June 25.
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