Illegal genetically engineered rice found in Heinz baby food in China

Press release - 2006-03-14
Greenpeace has discovered illegal genetically engineered (GE) rice in a Heinz baby cereal product sold in Mainland China, the first time worldwide that illegal GE rice contamination has been detected in baby food.

A mother is feeding Heinz Baby food.

The same product, manufactured at the same Guangzhou factory, is also sold in major supermarkets and drug stores in Hong Kong.  Greenpeace demands that Heinz recall the affected batch of products immediately and prevent the batch from being imported to Hong Kong.  Greenpeace also urges the Hong Kong Government to implement a comprehensive and strict GE food control and mandatory labelling system now.

Greenpeace commissioned an independent laboratory to test 19 baby food and snack products sold in Beijing and found that Heinz's product contained GE rice ingredients.

"This result is truly shocking," said Fung Ka-keung, Greenpeace food and agriculture campaigner. "This is the first time that illegal GE rice ingredients have been found in baby food products, a category that should be subject to the most stringent controls."

Fung explained that babies are very susceptible to food allergies.  In a 2002 report, The Royal Society, the independent scientific academy of the UK, identified babies as being particularly vulnerable to changes in the nutritional content of their food, and recommended that rigorous tests are carried out if GE ingredients are one day considered for use in infant formula. The Bt anti-pest rice found in Heinz's rice cereal contains proteins (Cry1Ac) that can kill pests.  A Mexican scientist's research in 2000 shows that the protein may trigger an immune response inside a mouse's body and cause allergies.   "This contamination case should be treated with the utmost seriousness. We cannot allow our children to be used as guinea pigs," said Fung.

This is the second GE contamination incident that Greenpeace has exposed within the past few days. On 12th March Greenpeace discovered that the Hong Kong Government had been distributing GE papaya seedlings to farmers.,  GE food is similar in appearance to traditional food.  Without a comprehensive and strict GE food control measures and a mandatory labelling system, GE ingredients can contaminate the human food chain.  However, the Hong Kong government's Health, Welfare and Food Bureau continues to ignore the risks and allows GE ingredients to pollute our food.

Responding to a similar GE contamination incident last year, Greenpeace issued a letter to the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food on 25th April 2005 asking the Government how they would prevent unsafe GE food from entering the Hong Kong market.  The Bureau replied simply that "the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has a food monitoring system"..  No concrete measures were mentioned.

"We have no time to waste.  Dr. Chow Yat-ngok must stop ignoring the threat of GE food to food safety now," concluded Fung, "The Hong Kong Government should implement strict control and mandatory GE food labelling systems in accordance with the the Biosafety Protocol, the first international agreement to regulate the transboundary movements of GE organisms.."

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