Consumer rejection of GE foods gathers pace in China

Feature story - March 14, 2005
As Chinese consumers become more aware of genetically engineered (GE) food, rejection of the controversial technology also grows in China, according to the latest consumer survey commissioned by Greenpeace.

The survey was carried out by Ipsos, an international market research company, who interviewed 600 respondents in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The survey found that 62% of the respondents are aware of "GE food," compared to 52% in a similar survey commissioned by Greenpeace last year. A majority (57%) of the respondents said they would choose non-GE food over GE food, a big leap from last year's 40%. Only 16% said they would choose GE food, compared to last year's figure of 35%.

The survey shows that residents in Beijing are more aware of GE food (72%), than those in Shanghai (67%) and Guangzhou (47%). Rejection of GE food is also highest in Beijing, as 64% said they would prefer non-GE food, while the figures in Shanghai and Guangzhou are 58% and 50% respectively.

"It is clear that Chinese consumers are becoming more cautious as they know more about GE food," said Greenpeace campaigner Ma Tian jie. "Consumers cannot be fooled: GE food costs and tastes the same as non-GE food, so why take the risk?"

Chinese consumers are even more cautious when faced with GE rice, according to the survey. 73% of the respondents said they would choose non-GE rice. China is now considering commercialisation of GE rice and officials said a decision may be made before the middle of this year. China leads the world in rice production, and if it decides to commercialise GE rice, it would be the first country in the world to experiment with genetic engineering on its staple crop.

"The overwhelming majority of Chinese consumers do not want genetic engineering in their rice bowl. GE rice poses environmental and health risks, and it also brings the risk of market rejection," Ma said. "This is another reason why China should not risk its staple crop with genetic engineering."

Greenpeace also exposed two food products in China for containing GE ingredients. The GE products are Kraft's Ritz cracker and Campbell 's corn soup. All were found to contain ingredients made from GE soybean. The testing was carried out by GeneScan, a laboratory based in Germany.

The international brands were accused by Greenpeace of having "double-standards" in their GE food policy. Kraft and Campbell's Soup have committed not to use GE ingredients in Europe, but have not done so in China. "We are demanding these companies not to sell GE food in China, as consumers deserve the same rights and safety standards everywhere," Ma said.

Consumer International, a network of 250 consumer organizations from 115 countries, is mobilising its member organisations to demand that governments follow international safety standards and labelling legislation on GE food on tomorrow's World Consumer Rights Day.