No to GM Baby food!

NOVARTIS TO PROBE GMO CONTAMINATION OF GERBER BABY FOOD PRODUCTS. Following Greenpeace expose, company vows to take 'appropriate actions'

Feature story - August 22, 2001
The Swiss-based food and agrochemical giant Novartis yesterday vowed to investigate charges made by Greenpeace that baby food products being sold in the Philippines by its affiliate Gerber contain genetically modified ingredients.

In a letter to Greenpeace dated 21 August 2001, Mr. Felix Raebe, head of media relations for Novartis International, said that the company "will investigate these serious allegations without delay and once we have a full understanding of the facts, we will take appropriate actions.

"In front of Swiss television cameras, Mr. Raebe confirmed to Greenpeace that taking "appropriate actions" means making sure that no genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are present in their products. Last year, Novartis/Gerber pledged to stop using GMOs in its food products worldwide.

But new laboratory analyses commissioned by Greenpeace have revealed the massive presence of transgenic DNA from genetically engineered (GE) foods in several baby food products sold in the Philippines, including three items produced by Novartis/Gerber. The test results showed a very high level of GE contamination in the soya contained in Gerber's products. Green Monggo: 66.7%; Cream of Brown Rice: 52.2%; Mixed Fruit: 34.3%. All these products were manufactured in Indonesia for Gerber by a company called P.T. Gizindo Prima Nusantara, and distributed in the Philippines by Taguig-based Zuellig Ingchcape, Inc.

"We welcome Novartis/Gerber's initiative to investigate this matter without delay and take the necessary steps to remove GMOs from its product chain. It is simply unacceptable for Novartis to apply a different standard for consumers and babies in the developing world," said campaigner Beau Baconguis of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

Yesterday, Greenpeace activists protested in front of the Novartis headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, blocking the main entrance of the building with hundreds of baby-puppets. The puppets were holding protest signs saying: ?Novartis/Gerber, keep your promise!? and ?Novartis/Gerber, stop genetically modified Baby food!?.

In addition to the three Novartis/Gerber baby food products, the following products analysed by the internationally certified Hong Kong laboratory DNA Chips tested positive for GE material: Nestle's Cerelac, Wheat, Kellog's Chocos Chex, Wyeth's Nursoy, Isomil, and Farina's Hot Wheat Cereal. Even if their products proved positive for GMO contamination, the companies Wyeth and Philmico-Mauri, (manufacturer of Farina Cereal) have related to Greenpeace their preferred policy of not using GMOs in their food products.

Greenpeace is also calling on the Philippine government to immediately implement a mandatory labeling system which would require food manufacturers to label their products which contain genetically altered ingredients. Scientific understanding of the impacts of genetic engineering on the environment and human health is extremely limited. Greenpeace believes that citizens and consumers wordwide have the right to know how their food is produced and to refuse to eat genetically engineered food.

Read the baby food report

Read more about the Novartis action