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Food Companies Pledge No GE Food in China
(Beyond Pesticides, July 24, 2003)
Thirty-two food companies have publicly committed to not sell any genetically engineered (GE) food in China, as a result of steadfast campaigning by Greenpeace China to help consumers keep their right to non-GE foods. Each company sent a formal letter to Greenpeace confirming they do not use GE ingredients in their products sold in China. "Transnational food companies are learning the lesson. There is a heavy price to pay for applying double standards to Chinese consumers," said Greenpeace China campaigner Sze Pang-cheung on Friday. The 32 companies include the corporations Lipton, Wrigley, Wyeth and Mead Johnson. Among the local companies to join the campaign are 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.

Recent policies in China have supported consumer choice for non-GE foods. A recent survey found that consumers in China are demanding these policies in order to protect this choice. 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.

Back in July 2002, the Chinese government installed obligatory labeling of all transgenic food. Enforcement of this policy increased because of a recent nationwide inspection, which emphasized that producers selling unlabeled transgenic food would be penalized. "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."

Additionally, the Chinese government introduced a new policy in March that helps keep soy production traditional in northeast China. This policy is especially significant considering that China is the world's fourth largest soy producer, and that traditional farming is in danger of falling by the wayside because of multinational biotechnology companies. Biotechnology companies force farmers to sign contracts when purchasing their genetically engineered seeds and crops. These grower's contracts prevent farmers from being able to store seeds from year to year, which the biotech companies claim would be a patent infringement. Additionally, "terminator technology," which is not currently being commercialized but is owned by a major seed company and USDA, will produce plants with sterile seeds, making the practice of seed saving impossible.

China's policies are miles ahead of U.S. policy, which does not require any labeling on GE foods. This is problematic for U.S. consumers who take issue with the environmental and health concerns that come with the farming and consumption of transgenic foods. Dean Hamer, chief of the biochemistry laboratory at the National Cancer Institute, stated at a recent talk on genes, "…it is essential that people are openly informed about what changes are being made to their foods. It should be part of the labeling. There would be oversight over this. I think where the United States is having difficulties is that they have given too much power to the big agriculture companies like Monsanto. You know when you get a drug from the drugstore you know it's been tested in some way. You should have the same when you go to the grocery store."

There are a host of other concerns with genetically engineered food such as insect resistance, superweeds, and the drift of GE pollen onto to conventional or organic crops. For details on these and other concerns, see Beyond Pesticides' factsheet 10 Reasons to Say No To Genetically Modified Crops and Foods. View other publications, media and comments regarding GE at Beyond Pesticides Genetic Engineering Program Page.