World's Largest Food Production Companies Phase Out Genetically Engineered Foods
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GIANT COMPANIES TO PHASE OUT BIOTECH FOODS
Environmental News Service
LONDON, UK, April 28, 1999 - The world's two largest food production
companies are withdrawing their acceptance of genetically modified
foodstuffs. Foods giant Unilever UK said Tuesday it would phase out
genetically engineered foods, a move that was closely followed by a similar
announcement by Nestle UK tonight.
Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch firm, sells over 1,000 brands of foods through 300
subsidiary companies in 88 countries world-wide with products on sale in a
further 70 countries. Nestle, headquartered in Switzerland, is the world's
largest food production company with 495 factories around the world.
The announcement by Nestle UK has major implications for the company's
international production system, as most of its centralised production
facilities produce for the entire European market and not for the UK alone.
The announcements are in response to continued demonstrations by European
consumers of a strong resistance to foods containing genetically modified
crops. In February, an unprecedented wave of debate on genetic technologies
in agriculture swept the country, putting the government and biotechnology
firms firmly on the defensive. Fears were founded on research that showed
experimental rats had been harmed by eating modified potatoes.
Greenpeace spokesperson Benedikt Haerlin said the Nestle and Unilever
announcements represent a major victory for European citizens. "When
Monsanto's first GE (genetically engineered) soya beans were shipped to
Europe Nestle, Unilever and Monsanto told us there was no way to stop
having GE ingredients in our food. Three years later they have learned that
there is no way to ignore the concerns and demands of the majority of
consumers," said Haerlin.
"With Nestle and Unilever, the two biggest food producers in the world,
have now broken ranks with international agro-chemical companies like by
Monsanto, Du Pont/Pioneer, Novartis and AgrEvo and started a stampede out
of GE food," said Haerlin.
The UK's Iceland Stores is opposed to the introduction of genetically
modified (GM) foods and has banned all GM ingredients from their own-brand
products. Other supermarkets have followed Iceland's lead. Marks and
Spencer's own-brand products will be GM free by the end of June 1999.
Charles, the Prince of Wales, has come out against genetically engineered
crops, saying, "I am not convinced we know enough about the long-term
consequences for human health and the environment of releasing plants (or,
heaven forbid, animals) bred in this way."
"I suspect that planting herbicide resistant crops will lead to more
chemicals being used on our fields, not fewer. But this isn't the whole
story," the Prince said. "Such sterile fields will offer little or no food
or shelter to wildlife, and there is already evidence that the genes for
herbicide resistance can spread to wild relatives of crop plants, leaving
us with weeds resistant to weedkiller."
Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth UK has criticized U.S. biotech giant
Monsanto for trying to use the law to deter public debate and protest over
genetically modified food.
Monsanto has obtained an injunction against six named defendants. The
company asked the High Court April 19 to order the defendants to hand over
a mailing list of recipients of a "Handbook For Action." The Handbook,
which outlines ways of protesting against genetically engineered foods, is
believed to have been sent to public figures including Prime Minister Tony
Blair, Prince Charles and the Pope. Monsanto's intention may be to target
any individual or organisation who might be held to have "encouraged"
direct action against genetically modified (GM) crops, by for example,
publishing details of trial sites, Friends of the Earth believes.
In the United States such legal action is known as a SLAPP (Strategic
Action Against Public Participation) lawsuit, a tactic sometimes used by
large companies facing environmental protests.
Friends of the Earth would consider such an order a gross intrusion of
civil liberties and "one which would bring our system of justice into
disrepute," the group said in a statement.
Tony Juniper, policy and campaigns director of Friends of the Earth, said,
"Monsanto have lost the public arguments over GM crops, and are now
resorting to legal strong-arm tactics in response. I'm not the least bit
surprised, given Monsanto's track record. They would be better advised to
accept the failure of their marketing strategy and to accept the opinion of
the British public who do not want GM food foisted upon them."
The first farm to take part in the UK government's farm scale trials of GM
crops may be forced to plough up seed that it planted over the Easter
weekend. Friends of the Earth is calling on the government to suspend farm
scale trials of genetically modified crops at Lushill Farm, in Hannington,
near Swindon, Wiltshire following revelations that AgrEvo, the company
undertaking the trials, appears to have broken the law by not informing
local people of its plans. AgrEvo, now plans to notify the local public.
But it has already planted GM seed on the farm and that the law requires GM
seed firms to notify the public prior to planting.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 1999
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