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GMO or not, Nestle urged to clarify
( 2004-01-07 23:54) (China Daily)

Chinese lawyers and experts yesterday urged Nestle to reveal whether the Swiss firm's Nestle Nesquik, is genetically modified food (GMO) as widely suspected.

Zhu Yanling, the plaintiff, bought Nestle Nesquik at a Carrefour outlet in March last year.

"Soon, I learned from a report by Greenpeace the product contained genetically modified elements,'' she said. "As a consumer, my right to know the truth was tampered with.''

The 33-year-old woman asked for a refund, plus compensation of 6.8 yuan (US$0.8), which is as much as the price of one bag of the drink.

At a forum organized by Greenpeace and the Shanghai-based East China University of Politics and Law, Wu Dong, a Chinese attorney who acts as the plantiff's lawyer, claimed that Nestle's instant drink contains genetically modified ingredients, but its label does not say that.

Despite an invitation, no one from Nestle showed up at the forum.

Regulations released by ministries of agriculture and public health in 2002 require all genetically modified foods or foods made with genetically modified materials to be labelled.

A total of 17 products, including soybeans, corns, rapeseeds, cotton seeds and tomatoes become the first ones required to be labelled.

Last month, Zhu and Wu flied to Switzerland to discuss the problem with senior staff of the company.

Nestle China Ltd has said the disputed product does not fall in line with any of the five categories outlined by the Ministry of Agriculture.

But Wu insists the company should abide by the Chinese Law on Protection of Consumers' Rights and Interests.

Wu stressed that as a world-renowned firm, Nestle ought to shoulder social responsibility.

The case became more complicated when a second test on the product at the end of last month showed no genetically modified ingredient was found, contradicting the findings of an earlier examination in August.

"No matter what the result is, there is no denying consumers find it difficult to know the truth about such a product,'' Wu said.

On the two different results, Wu Zhangzhu, China Business Manager from GeneScan, a leader in the field of molecular biological testing of genetically modified organisms in food, feeds and agricultural raw materials, said that a test may not be that exact.

"Maybe an ingredient only accounts for less than one per cent in a product,'' he said.

"The process of obtaining and magnifying the gene is very complicated. There is a possibility that if a product contains a genetically modified ingredient, our test may fail to spot it.''

Greenpeace, which sponsored Zhu's trip to Switzerland started research on genetically modified foods in the Chinese mainland in 2001.

"The debate on the technology applied to food still goes on,'' said Shi Pengxiang, from the organization. "There are no reported cases of any bad effect of the food on humans, but we could not say the food is safe.''

Shi stressed scientists should do more research to evaluate the safety of the food and the potential risks of the wide use of the technology.

Despite the 2002 regulations, many producers in Beijing and Shanghai did not label their products until last summer when related departments in the two cities carried out large-scale inspections.

Qiu Geping, a professor from the East China University of Politics and Law, said producers should obey the law of their own initiatives.

She said that if genetically modified foods really posed no harm, people would finally accept them.

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