On the Bunge trail

Feature story - 14 June, 2004
This spring our 'Biosafety Inspectors' and activists have been globally monitoring imports and exports of Genetically Engineered (GE) crops - soya in particular - following the introduction of the EU legislation on GE labelling and traceability. A lot of this activity has concentrated on the practices of Bunge - not because we enjoy 'Bunge bashing' but because this transnational makes US$22 billion in revenue a year, a large proportion of which is from soya both GE and GE-free.

Greenpeace activists occupy Moyesa/ Bunge soya processing facility to highlight the use of GE soya in the plant.

As the world's leading oilseed processing company and as one of the world's leading traders and processors of soya, Bunge not only has a responsibility for the environmental safety of the products that it trades but also its position within the industry gives it influence over the global trade in soya.

We know that Bunge already supplies some small volumes of guaranteed non-GE soya as do a number of Bunge subsidiary companies. Therefore we consider it is a matter of company policy and responsibility as to whether or not supply GE or non-GE.

Unfortunately the good people at Bunge headquarters seem to be rather coy about taking a stance, stating that it "...pursues a strategy that devolves responsibility for handling GE crops to each of its businesses so that they are able to effectively meet the specific requirements of each of the markets they serve."

So, we decided to go and visit the company's facilities in a number of countries to see the reality for ourselves and to discuss the company's responsibilities directly with them.

We visited the processing plants of Bunge/Cereol in Ravena and Ancona, Italy and Moyresa/Bunge in Cartagena, Spain. The management of the plant in Ravenna, Italy told us that they are currently GE free, because they are importing GE Free soya from Brazil, but they could resume GMO imports by October. In Ancona, and in Cartagena, Spain a shipment of soyabeans, was delivered to processing facilities which currently contained GE soya, thereby deliberately contaminating the shipment of non-GE soya.

"Bunge has the ability to make these and its other soya import and processing facilities GE free, but it appears they do not have the will to do so. Companies who control our food supply have a responsibility to provide GE free," said Lindsay Keenan, our International GE campaigner.

Bunge has now said that it will keep its soya processing facilities at Ravenna in Italy, Bilbao in Spain and Mannheim in Germany GE free from April till October but that is all they are willing to commit too. The many other Bunge facilities around Europe, Brazil and globally will go on dumping millions of tons of GE soya into the food and feed supply.

Juan Felipe Carrasco our campaigner from Spain commented: "We know that Moyresa/Bunge is importing shipments of GE soya, and also occasionally shipments of non-GE soya, into Spain. We know that this company has the expertise and the market power to convert its Spanish soya processing facilities to supply guaranteed non-GE, so why do they choose not to do so?"

Last year we commissioned some independent analysis that found that animal feed sold by Bunge in Brazil was GE contaminated but was not labelled as such. Brazilian legislation is clear concerning its labelling rules; nevertheless this legislation is neither respected by companies nor guaranteed by the government.

We inspected a soya processing plant in Passo Fundo, in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul in May. We are concerned that the soya being processed is contaminated as Passo Fundo is located in the centre of GE plantations in Brazil.

"The lack of identification on the crops in this plant implies that there can be no traceability on the final product. Consumers have the right to know what they are eating and consuming," said Mariana Paoli, our GE campaigner in Brazil. "Bunge is able to guarantee GE free animal feed for animals in Germany but they also need to respect the right of Brazilian consumers who have said no to GMOs."

Bunge's policy on GE has huge international sway, its market influence is a combination of size and positioning. This year alone it has expanded its business in India, Russia and Turkey.

If they make more refineries GE Free it would increase the volume of non-GE soya being processed and so more non-GE ingredients are available for EU food industry, it would also reduce the potential for contamination that occurs when GE and non-GE.

In the past few months we had several encounters with Bunge on occasions where they were ex- or importing GE soy, were carelessly risking contaminating non-GE soya or by their own admition labelling non GE soya as containing GE. By doing so Bunge is deliberately reducing the availability of non-GE soya. And therefore making it harder for the food industry to supply products made without GE plants. But we still have hope that through our guiding light and plain talking negotiations GE-free Bunge facilities will become the norm instead of the exception.

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Please help us to protect the homeland of soya from Bunge by building a cyber Great Wall to keep GE Soya out of China!