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Consumers Deceived as US GE Corn Arrives

Wednesday January 25 2005

Consumers Deceived as US GE Corn Arrives on Supermarket Shelves

One of the first products to be sold in New Zealand and identified as containing Genetically Engineered corn from the United States has arrived on supermarket shelves.

But GE Free NZ in food and environment says consumers are being betrayed by government regulators and the Commerce Commission who promised clear labelling on GE products.

Many people, including the elderly, parents of young children and vegetarians, are likely to be misled because the lettering mentioning the GE status of the corn ingredient is hardly visible without a magnifying glass to spot it.

The canned product imported from the US is believed to be one of the first to contain GE ingredients that the law requires to be labelled. Made by Hormel Foods under the Stagg brand the product appears to target vegetarians despite the cultural, ethical and health concerns many vegetarians have about GE. The product is on sale at Foodtown and Woolworths supermarkets who have a GE-free policy for their own-label products.

GE free NZ is calling on Progressive Enterprises - owners of the supermarkets- to withdraw the product as its customers are very likely to be mislead into buying it -unaware of its GE ingredients.

This is exactly what the government promised would NOT be allowed to happen: GE sneaking into our food without being clearly labelled. GE will remain on the political agenda until proper action is taken to protect consumer rights and public health.

"They promised to give people a choice and that GE products would be clearly labelled but this is a sham," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment." this adds to the huge gaps in regulations that allow cafes and takeaways to use GE ingredients unlabelled".

"It is outrageous that the product is on sale at all given renewed scientific warnings (see below) that GE regulation and testing is inadequate. But to put it on sale without a clear label is basically dishonest and deceitful".
A formal complaint is being made to The Commerce Commission over misleading trade practices.

"The Commerce Commission must take action to require clear "alert" labelling as used for claims of 'low fat', or 'no preservatives'. Anything less is a betrayal of the consumer" says Mr Carapiet.

The public will lose confidence in the Commerce Commission if they fail to act and continue to show favouritism supporting GE foods. In the past Food Authorities have refused to tell the public what products were found to contain GE ingredients at below the threshold for labelling - including baby foods.

They have continued to approve imports of GE ingredients despite the lack of long-term testing and have stymied use of "GE-free labels" by prosecuting suppliers because of accidental low-level contaminants.

The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification called on the government to help introduce a GE-free labelling system.

"Now even the proposals of the Royal Commission are being sidelined in the interest of those promoting GE," says Jon Carapiet. "What the Commerce Commission seems to be doing is undermining that commitment".

It is not clear what the nature of the genetic modification in the corn but there is potential for disaster as long as GE crops are allowed to contaminate conventional foods and where the system is incapable of tracking what modification has been made to a food. There is clear evidence (see scientific warning in article below) that some GE crops are more likely to be allergens. Contamination of food by "pharmaceutical crops" has also already happened in the US.

In fact the EPA is proposing pharmaceutical contamination be accepted by the food industry there. If the New Zealand government follows their lead our agricultural export sector would be sabotaged. Unfortunately NZ government Ministers have already been meeting with US investors keen to grow pharmaceutical crops in New Zealand.

In this election year the government is on notice that manufacturers, the supermarkets and government regulators must be held to account and consumers properly served as the law demands.

In the meantime GE Free NZ will advise people to "Buy New Zealand Made" where possible and avoid products from countries like the US and Argentina unless clearly labelled as organic or GM-free.

All locally grown fruit and vegetables are GE-free but approvals of GE field trials for onions, trees and cows already present real risks to New Zealand's export reputation and environment. The largest GE sheep trial in the world has collapsed yet ERMA refuses to monitor the soil for unexpected effects.

A recent government-funded survey of public and scientific opinion: "Hands Across The Water" found that most scientists interviewed for the project agreed with the wider community that GE organisms should not be released into the New Zealand environment at this stage.

This weekend sees a convergence in Rotorua of concerned members of the public, farmers, campaigners and activists to discuss the threat of GE contamination and the need for public vigilance in the face of failure by government officials to protect the national interest.


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