First Supermarket in China acts to protect consumer rights

Feature Story - 2004-09-26
Many Shanghai consumers are concerned about GE food but they have not been given the information to make their choice. Until now. The Hualian supermarket chain, in cooperation with Greenpeace, is labelling products 'non-GE' where manufacturers have given a pledge that they do not contain GE ingredients.

Shoppers in a Hualian supermarket in Shanghai, the first chain in China to label non-GE foods.

Greenpeace Assistant Campaigner Ma Tianjie said, "The effects of prolonged consumption of GE foods are uncertain and their safety has been hotly debated. Consumers in China have fought for their rights through the internet and legal challenges. To satisfy the growing demands of consumers, Hualian has become mainland China's first supermarket chain to label products to indicate that they are free from genetically engineered ingredients. Through their action, Hualian have shown that they value the voice of consumers." Ma Tianjie hopes more supermarkets will follow Hualian's good lead in granting consumers their right to choose through giving them the necessary information.

According to China's labelling law, most processed foodstuffs including baby milk powder, biscuits, snacks are not required to be labelled. This apparent 'loophole' recently led Shanghai consumer Zhu Yanling to bring a lawsuit against global food giant, Nestle, for selling a product containing a GE ingredient that had no label to alert consumers.

This year food producers in mainland China have committed to go GE-free across 83 brands. The food producers are very eager to react to consumer demand. Greenpeace published the "Shoppers' Guide to Avoiding GE Food" to provide consumers with information on the GE content of food products in the market so that they can make the right choices. Greenpeace sent letters to food companies and distributors asking for their policy on GE food and clarifying whether or not their brands contain GE ingredients. The guide was compiled based on their responses. According to this guide, the Hualian supermarket chain places tags carrying a pledge on products that promise not to use GE ingredients.

Ma Tianjie said, "GE food is sold on the market without informing consumers. Scientists are not sure about the health risks of GE food and they are proven to pose a great threat to the ecology and environment. Consumer requests for information about GE content of food is very reasonable in this situation. Greenpeace is now pushing the legislation of GE food labelling and persuading food producers and distributors to provide the source of ingredients so as to protect the information rights of consumers. Greenpeace will regularly sample food products to check whether food producers have stuck to their promise.

The manager of Hualian supermarket, Mr Zhang Jianmin said, "We hope our action will allow our consumers to buy with confidence."