European consumers mobilise against GE

Feature story - 20 April, 2004
Ge campaigners and activists were out in force throughout Europe over the week end as the EU rules on labelling products with genetically engineered (GE) ingredients came into effect.

Gene detectives in action.

The new EU rules mean that now shoppers can easily reject food containing GE ingredients as all products ranging from margarine to popcorn now have to clearly state if they are GE. To help consumers, our GE consumer guides or red/green lists are being released in more than 20 countries in the Americas, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

GE food: Not in my trolley!

In Europe we have also launched operation Trolley Watch, where active consumers and 'Gene detectives' are joining up to rid supermarket shelves of GE foods. Luckily very few food items in Europe contain GE ingredients, thanks to massive consumer opposition. With the help of the public, we have started to closely monitor the situation through Trolley Watch to ensure that the European food market remains closed to GE products.

"We are confident that European food companies and retailers will have the wisdom to keep on shunning GE food," said our consumer campaigner Martina Holbach. "We have the tools and consumer support to force such products off the market."

Public says no

Public stances against the products have already begun. The largest German supermarket chain Edeka, with the help of our 'gene detectives' conducted consumer education to identify GE products last Friday. Edeka has made clear commitments to avoid GE ingredients in their own brand products.

"On Friday morning 15 German gene detectives and one Sherlock Holmes styled activist informed journalists and consumers about the new labelling regulations. With the slogan 'Genetic Engineering - Open your eyes, keep your hands off' the detectives explained how consumers can shop ge free," explains Stephanie Töwe our GE campaigner in Germany.

The activists distributed shopping guides which list food brands from over 400 companies and also an action postcard "Become a gene detective". Similar activities were also held throughout France.

Local French groups organised information stands in 18 towns across the country. The new French consumer guide was also distributed and guided tours of supermarkets were organised to point out to shoppers where GE products could be hiding on the shelves.

Martina Holbach headed up the gene detective action in Luxembourg in several shopping centres. The detectives found six GE labelled products, all imported from the US by the French company SDV. Needless to say, our gene detectives demanded that Auchan´s management take the products from their shelves. They have yet to respond.

Our Luxembourg Gene Detectives continued their action on Saturday. "People saw us on TV the evening before and wanted to become Gene Detectives. Even people who said they normally don't support Greenpeace were very concerned about GE in their food and were participating in our initiative. We will happily continue our mission in the coming weeks," said Barbara Haas, our volunteer coordinator.

Legal loophole

Although these great actions will boost consumer rejection this legislation is far from perfect. There is a loophole in the law that allows meat and dairy products from animals reared on a diet of GE feed to be sold without a label to this effect.

For consumer choice to be meaningful, meat and dairy products from animals fed with GE feed must be labelled too. Some 80 percent of the current worldwide GE crops are used in animal feed. Since the new EU rules and a traceability system in place require the animal feed itself to be labelled, there is no excuse to exclude meat and dairy products from the requirements.

Learn more:

- For more information about the implications of the new EU labelling and traceability rules read this.

For the latest information from the GE campaign check out our website

More information on the French action.

More information on the German action.

More information on the Luxembourg action.