Chinese consumer loses GE Food labelling case against Nestle but vows to continue

Feature Story - 2004-04-20
China's first consumer court case on the labelling of genetically engineered (GE) food has been rejected on technical grounds. Last year, a young mother from Shanghai, Zhu Yanling, sued food giant Nestle for not labelling the Nesquik which she had been buying for her two-year old baby. On 19th April, Shanghai No.2 Intermediate Court ruled that the product did not contain GE ingredients based on a test by a Ministry of Agriculture approved laboratory and that Zhu did not have a case.

Ms. Zhu askes Nestle to eliminate GE ingredient

The laboratory, Shanghai Agriculture Research Institution Biotechnology Center, was commissioned to conduct the first test by the Court in August 2003. The product was found to contain ingredients derived from GE soya. Nestlé objected to the testing result and the Court ordered a second test to reconfirm the findings in December 2003. However, the second test proved negative. The Court decided to base its judgment on the second test as the method used was the official testing method approved by the Ministry of Agriculture.

"I don't consider this a loss," said Zhu Yanling, a young woman working in the financial industry. "The case has already made more Chinese consumers aware of our rights to know what we are eating." Ms. Zhu said she would appeal against the judgment and continue the fight.

With support from Greenpeace, Zhu Yanling and her lawyer visited Switzerland and met with representatives of the company in December 2003. "Nestlé told me in the meeting that they would continue using GE ingredients in China. They don't believe Chinese consumers are as concerned about GE food as Europeans are. Such a double standard is a moral question, not a legal one, and it is up to consumers to judge whether it is right or wrong."

During the last two years, Greenpeace has repeatedly found Nestlé's products in China to contain GE. "We are talking here about a company which has repeatedly been found to be selling GE products without informing consumers, and have vowed to continue using GE ingredients in China," said Sze Pang Cheung, Greenpeace China GE Campaign Manager. "They may win one court case, but they are going against the general will of consumers." A consumer survey released by Greenpeace yesterday found that 87% of the respondents in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou demand that food producers label their GE products. 70% of the respondents said they would lose confidence in a brand if its products were found to contain GE ingredients.