Greenpeace 'Labels' Genetically Altered Food Products in Supermarket Protest

Calls on Food Producers and Retailers to go GE Free

Feature story - November 8, 2001
In the absence of a mandatory labeling policy for genetically altered food products in the country, Greenpeace activists today demonstrated inside a popular supermarket chain outlet and slapped 'labels' on certain food products found by the group to contain genetically modified organisms or GMOs.

"We are taking action because we believe that Filipino consumers have a right to choose, whether they want to eat genetically modified food or not. The government's failure to establish an effective labeling system for genetically altered food products is unfortunately robbing consumers of their right to know what they are eating and prevents them from exercising their option to reject food items contaminated with GMOs," said Beau Baconguis, Genetic Engineering campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

More than a dozen activists from the environmental group scoured the shelves of SM Super Sale Club in Quezon City to attach stickers marked "GMO Contaminated" on popular food products, particularly several brands of baby food, infant formula, hotdogs and other snack items, earlier confirmed by the group to contain GMOs in laboratory tests. (1)

The supermarket protest took place eight days after the group launched its True Food Consumer Guide, essentially a listing of products that had been tested by Greenpeace for the presence of genetically modified ingredients. The activists also distributed the Guide at the supermarket to allow consumers to avoid name-brand products which contain GMOs.

"Given the lethargic and seemingly apathetic response of the government on this issue, we are also challenging retailers and food producers to decide whether they want to cheat consumers by hiding behind the inadequacies of the present system or respect their rights by providing truthful and reliable information on all of their products," she added

The group believes that genetically engineered (GE) products began appearing in food products in the Philippines starting in late 1996 due to the country's massive soya and maize imports from the United States, considered by many as the principal source of genetic contamination worldwide. The Philippines is among the top importers of corn and soya from the US where conventionally grown crops are routinely mixed with genetically engineered supplies. The lack of a clear system both in the US and in the Philippines to segregate GE from non-GE supplies makes genetic contamination inevitable. (2)

"Greenpeace remains totally opposed to the introduction of genetically engineered organisms into the environment and food supplies. At the very least, people must have the right to know which food products are genetically manipulated, especially given the unknown impacts of this experiment with our food on human health and the environment, " said Von Hernandez, Campaign Manager for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

A Greenpeace commissioned poll earlier this year suggests that many Filipinos are still unaware that genetically engineered food have already entered the nation's food supply. According to the poll conducted by Pulse Asia in March, only 11% of respondents nationwide were aware of the GMO issue. However, 94 % of this base group of aware individuals think it is necessary for food manufacturers and retailers to provide information to the public about the use of genetically engineered ingredients in their products. (3)

"When it comes to something basic like food, we don't think people want to be surprised. They want to know. They don't want to be used as guinea pigs by companies who continue to sell genetically contaminated food. Proper labeling will give consumers who want to avoid GMOs a fighting chance," added Hernandez.

The labeling of GMOs is becoming standard practice in many countries around the world. In Japan, China, Australia, Russia and throughout Europe, genetically engineered food must be labeled. Many companies worldwide have also announced that their products in these countries will exclude the use of genetically engineered ingredients

Doctors and scientists have warned that these foods may not be safe in the diet or the environment. There has been no convincing and conclusive evidence establishing their safety for human consumption. Certain GMOs have been linked to the development of allergies and anti-biotic resistance. The death of beneficial insects, the creation of superweeds, and the increasing crop dependence on herbicides, all point to the potentially irreversible consequences GMO releases have on life and the environment.

Greenpeace vowed to conduct more GMO Labeling Patrols in other supermarkets in the future.

For more information:
Greenpeace Southeast Asia in the Philippines: Tels. +(632) 4347034 or 921-8930

NOTES

(1) Greenpeace commissioned tests conducted by the independent laboratory HK DNA Chips revealed GMO contamination in the following products: Bonus Vienna franks, Rica Protina hotdogs, Campo Carne Moby hotdogs, Purefoods Beefy hotdogs, Quality Foods Budget franks, Crab Cake distributed by Foodmart Enterprises, Yung Ho soya drink, Doritos Smokey Red Barbecue, Nestle Nesvita Natural Cereal Drink, Knorr Cream of Corn soup, Isomil Soy Infant Formula, Nestle's Cerelac Wheat, Kellog's Chocos Chex, Wyeth's Nursoy, Farina's Hot Wheat Cereal, Gerber Mixed Fruits, Gerber Cream of Brown Rice, and Gerber Green Monggo, Knorr Crab and Corn soup, Maggi Cup Chicken Arroz Caldo, Campbell's Chicken with Rice, Ensure Vanilla, Tostillas Smokey BBQ Flavor, Kornets Natural Flavor, Quick Chow Instant Pancit, Purefoods Chicken Nuggets, Purefoods Chorizos Bilbao, CDO Corned Beef, Swift's Cheesy Hotdog, Campo Carne Chicken Hotdog, Hormel Vienna Sausage, and Swift Meat Loaf Embotido style.

After a series of Greenpeace exposes, Novartis, parent company and manufacturer of Gerber products, recently gave the assurance that its global GE-free policy would also be implemented in the Philippines.

(2) In the Philippines, GE food are either imported as finished products or are locally produced with imported raw materials. Soya, corn, canola, and cotton constitute 98% of all commercially grown GE crops. Ninety-five percent of these crops are found in the United States, Canada and Argentina. Since the Philippines imports huge amounts of soya and corn from the United States where genetic contamination is widespread, then the possibility of food contamination is very high.

(3) More than ninety percent (90%) of Filipinos who are aware of the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food believe that the Philippines should set up a labeling system to inform consumers about the presence of GMOs in food products, according to the results of a Greenpeace commissioned nationwide survey conducted by Pulse Asia last March. The same survey indicated that while only 11% of respondents nationwide were aware of the GMO issue, 94 % of this base group of aware individuals think it is necessary for food manufacturers and retailers to provide information to the public about the use of genetically engineered ingredients in their products.