3-Food: New Zealand supermarkets start to become GE-free
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- Subject: 3-Food: New Zealand supermarkets start to become GE-free
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- Date: Fri, 23 Nov 2001 13:15:39 +0100
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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------
TITLE: Stores strike early with GM ban
SOURCE: The New Zealand Herald, by Irene Chapple
DATE: November 21, 2001
------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------
Stores strike early with GM ban
Supermarkets are ducking a potential food fight by pre-empting new
labelling rules on GM products. They are already checking the GM status of
food before the rules come into full force on December 7 next year. The
move comes as the controversy over genetic modification heats up, with two
local bodies declaring their regions GM-free. Although the step has raised
retailers' eyebrows, they believe such moves will not see products removed
Greenpeace has named five food manufacturers which it says do not have a
written policy to be GM-free - Nestle, Pam's Products, Arnott's, Ingham
Chicken and Kraft. Nestle and Kraft deny this, saying they have told
Greenpeace of a GM-free policy and they are attempting to provide consumers
with unmodified foods. Arnott's says it is trying to find new products to
replace soy products classified as genetically modified. Ingham Chicken did
not respond by press time.
Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey has declared his city GE-free - following the
example of the Nelson City, which became GE-free in April. To complicate
matters, the Nelson City Council maintains that there is a difference
between GM and GE (genetic engineering). In its zone, GM is acceptable but
GE is not because GE would include the crossing of genes. In a Waitakere
report, the definition is recognised as a moot point. Waitakere and Nelson
are the only two of around 70 councils to have taken a stand so far.
Mr Harvey says Waitakere will not police supermarket shelves, nor will it
pass bylaws on the issue. But the councils' step has raised eyebrows among
supermarket chains. Barry Hellberg of the Retail Merchants Association has
taken up the issue after Woolworths raised concerns that the move could
hurt sales. The association has written to Local Government Minister Sandra
Lee questioning the ability of councils to declare themselves GM-free.
"It is a concern if they can pass a bylaw. The supermarket industry would
challenge that on principle," said Mr Hellberg. Brenda Cutress, of the
Grocery Marketers Association, said any ban would be "illogical and
impractical". The association believed modified food was "as safe as any
other food". The chief public health adviser at the Ministry of Health, Bob
Boyd, said local authorities could ban GM products if they were deemed
detrimental. They could also use registration rules to ban GM food from
food premises, but such moves were likely to be contested in court.
Woolworths marketing director Des Flynn said few GM products were among the
16,000 product lines on supermarkets' shelves. "We are actively seeking to
get non-GM replacements for those that [are]." There was a "high
possibility" that Woolworths, which also runs Big Fresh and Price Chopper,
would be GM-free once the labelling requirement came into force. Woolworths
has contacted hundreds of suppliers and asked them to provide assurances
their products are GM-free.
Progressive Enterprises, which runs the Foodtown, Countdown and 3 Guys
chains, has sought a similar assurance. It has also declared its "goal" is
to ensure its house brands, Signature Range and Basics, are GM-free.
However, New Zealand's largest supermarket operator, Foodstuffs, said it
was simply too hard to guarantee that products were GM-free. The company
controls just over half of all supermarket sales, largely through its Pak
'N Save and New World chains. Its house brand, Pam's - stocked in New
World, Four Square and Pak 'N Save - could not claim to be entirely GM-
free, said Foodstuffs' retail operations general manager, Graham Fabian.
Foodstuffs had not required GM-free guarantees from suppliers but had asked
them to ensure they complied with the impending labelling requirements.
Eighty per cent of those contacted had assured Foodstuffs that their
products were not modified. The other 20 per cent have yet to respond.
Mr Fabian believed some suppliers were shunning GM ingredients to avoid
controversy. "I think what may be happening is that suppliers are thinking,
'If we have this with a GM label it's going to stick out like a sore
thumb', so they are changing it. But we are not going to go out of our way
to source products which are GM-free." Mr Fabian said the decision was
ultimately up to consumers. "If GM products are on the shelves and don't
sell, we will remove them."
He also believed moves by rival supermarkets would have little effect on
the market, as it would be uneconomic for suppliers to provide different
products to different chains. Mr Fabian estimated that less than 5 per cent
of products were genetically modified. He said anecdotal evidence showed
consumers were relaxed about GM food and would not refuse to eat it.
The Technical services manager for Cerebos Greggs, Michael Liddell, also
felt that it would be difficult to enforce GM-free zones. He said up to 15
suppliers could be part of the production chain for a product sold through
supermarkets. "A lot of companies are saying they can't afford to do it. It
is a major issue logistically."
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