GM food banned in Europe is on sale in HK

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 March, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 March, 2003, 12:00am

SCMP, March 19, 2003

By Heike Phillips

A range of popular snack foods and cereals sold in Hong Kong supermarkets contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients which have been banned from sale in Europe.

Health-conscious shoppers will find nutritional information and ingredients listed on products such as Cheerios, Doritos Tortilla Chips and Plant ers Cheez Curls, but what the label does not tell them is that the product contains GM material.

Greenpeace's GM food campaigner, Sze Pang-cheung, said: 'In Europe, these GM corn ingredients are used only as pig feed and are banned for human consumption.'

The environmental group tested 22 food samples in a recently released study of foods commonly found in Hong Kong. More than 36 per cent contained GM ingredients.

'In Europe, this material would have to be graded as feed to enter the market,' Mr Sze said.

Greenpeace argued at a panel meeting in the Legislative Council last week that a government proposal to introduce a system of 'pre-market safety assessments' and voluntary labelling, rather than legislation, failed to adequately protect consumers' rights.

ParknShop said yesterday that it supported a voluntary labelling system and would offer customers the choice of whether or not to buy GM-free products.

'The range of products that we stock is determined by the demand from our customers,' said ParknShop public relations manager Teresa Pang.

The Health, Welfare and Food Bureau will also present its case for a voluntary system in Legco tomorrow, citing 'significant' costs to the food trade of between $16 million and $91 million as a key barrier to a mandatory labelling system.

A government-commissioned study found a voluntary system would not incur any costs.

In a paper outlining its position, the bureau said: 'Under the proposed scheme, importers or manufacturers of food containing GM ingredients will be required to submit documents and certificates to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department prior to importing the food to Hong Kong.'

Greenpeace is outraged at the apparent about-face by the government on introducing a mandatory scheme, after years of debate over the issue including a Legco motion as far back as January 2000 calling for mandatory labelling.

Mr Sze said the proposed 'gatekeeping' system of assessing products before they come on the market was a 'system of failure', as was evidenced by recent cases in the United States which has a similar scheme in place.

'As recently as January there was a case of hundreds of pigs, which had been used for genetic engineering tests at the University of Illinois, ending up as pork chops on the markets,' he said.

The case was reported to the US Food and Drug Administration on January 31. A copy of the report obtained by the Post states: 'The university has repeatedly failed to adequately monitor related research ... this deficiency has resulted in the sale of 386 investigational hogs for slaughter for food since April 2001 without prior authorisation from FDA [US Food and Drug Administration].'


ingredient (n) a component of something

Example: Tango queen Gladys Fernandez says intimacy is a key to the legendary dance while flamenco mistress Clara Ramon lists passion as a crucial ingrendient of her discipline. (SCMP, March 14, 2003)

feed (n) food, especially for animals. As a verb, feed means to give food to someone

stock (v) to keep for sale or future use

mandatory (adj) compulsory, required by authority

about-face (n) a total change of attitude, opinion, etc

Example: Many in Israel believe that Mr [Ariel] Sharon has reached a point in his career where he may be prepared for an astonishing about-face - reversing his long-held position on the occupied territories and the Palestinians.

(SCMP, January 26, 2003)

Discussion points

- Do you read the ingredients before you purchase any processed food? What kind of information do you expect from the labels?

- Should all GM food be labelled?

- Should genetic engineering be promoted in growing food? Why?