Parents warned baby food in supermarket shelves possibly contaminated by illegal GMOs

Feature story - March 16, 2006
After the recent discovery of illegal genetically-engineered rice in Heinz Rice Cereal, a baby food product manufactured in China which is also marketed in the Philippines, parents are advised to take extra caution when buying baby food products.

A mother is feeding Heinz Baby food.

Filipino parents should take extra caution when buying baby food products as these may be contaminated with illegal genetically-engineered rice, Greenpeace issued the warning today after discovering that Heinz Rice Cereal, a baby food product manufactured in China and also sold in the Philippines is contaminated by GE rice which has not yet been cleared for commercial planting or consumption. Several supermarkets in Metro Manila yesterday confirmed that they sold the product, but the source, whether these came from the manufacturing plant in China or not, has yet to be determined.

Greenpeace revealed in Beijing earlier this week that unapproved GE (genetically- engineered) rice had been detected in Heinz's Baby Rice Cereal. The environmental group called for an immediate recall of all the contaminated products. It also asks for a strengthened government control over the spread of illegal GE rice in the food chain.

The test result was given by GeneScan, a Germany-based independent lab, which sampled 19 food products that Greenpeace had collected in the supermarkets in Beijing. Heinz Baby Rice Cereal (best before 12 March, 2007) is the only product where GE ingredients, namely Bt rice, were detected. The GE rice variety is developed to be resistant to pest but has not been approved by the government.

"We were completely shocked by the result", said Steven Ma, GE campaigner for Greenpeace China, "It is the first time we found illegal GE rice in baby food, which should have been subject to the most rigorous surveillance."

"What happened in China is very alarming. But what is equally frightening is that this can happen in the Philippines where the unsuspecting public is already being exposed to GMOs in commercial food products, including baby food and infant formulas," said Greenpeace Southeast Asia GE Campaigner Daniel Ocampo.

According to Mr. Ma, infants are highly sensitive and are ranked by the Royal Society as the 'high risk group' for food safety problems. In its 2002 report on GE food, the Royal Society recommended that any GE ingredients in foods such as infant formulas "should be investigated most rigorously". In addition, the Bt protein (Cry1Ac) that exists in the GE rice has been found by a group of Mexican scientists to may have induced allergenic- likeresponses in mice.  "Rice cereals do not need to be cooked to feed to the babies, which makes the contamination incident even more serious", said Mr. Ma, "Babies should be the last if we ever want to test unapproved GE crops on humans!"

On 1 March, Greenpeace informed Heinz China about the finding, asking for an immediate recall and a change of suppliers. Mr. Donald Gadsden, CEO of Heinz China, replied on 8 March, saying that "Heinz  will take any alerts seriously and we are now conducting a thorough inspection. This is a very urgent situation", said Ma, "Heinz need to act more quickly with real solutions."

Survey shows that Chinese consumers are very uneasy about GE rice, especially illegal ones. The latest IPSOS survey conducted in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Wuhan shows that 79% of the respondents prefer non-GE rice to GE rice. 78% of the respondents deem unapproved GE rice as 'unsafe' and 62% of the consumers are oppose to using any GE ingredients in baby food.

This is not the first time Greenpeace found the food chain contaminated by illegal GE rice. In 2005, the environmental watchdog uncovered large scale growth of illegal GE rice in central China?s Hubei province, followed by further discovery of contamination in a wholesale market in Guangzhou and a Carrefour store in Wuhan. The provincial government in Hubei province issued an official notice in January 2006, banning the selling of any unapproved GE seeds. An undercover investigation by Greenpeace in Wuhan city reveals that although the notice deterred most of the seed dealers in the city, there were still illegal GE rice seeds leaked to the farmers in the suburb area.

The Heinz baby food scandal came just a week after Greenpeace released a report that reveals the extent of GE contamination in 39 countries around the world, including the Philippines where baby food and infant formulas tested in 2001 were found to contain GE soya.

"The Philippine government, being duty bound to protect the interests of its citizens, must ratify the Biosafety Protocol which establishes standards of safety and information of GE crops in global food and feed trade, and institute measures to ensure that food containing GMOs are properly labelled," Mr. Ocampo explained, "Otherwise what assurance do we have that what we are eating, and feeding our babies, is completely safe?"

Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organization that uses non-violent creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems to force solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.

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