GENTECH archive 8.96-97


Re: Novartis' Suspicious Rhetoric on Labeling

The Reuter's news article datelined Kansas City on Novartis' Suspicious
Rhetoric on Labelling was a bit paranoid. Let's be fair-- there is no way
(legally or practically) that a seed company can require certain wording on
a consumers product label unless it were a contractual condition imposing
an obligation to be placed on subsequent contracts of sale by buyers. Not
only would such a condition be bad for marketing, it could not practically
be monitored.

We have to work backward in the contractual chain-- from consumers to
retailer to wholesaler to fabricator to farmer to seed company.

Phil B.

>      By Greg Frost
>    KANSAS CITY, Mo., Feb 24 (Reuter) - Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Novartis
>AG took a major step Monday in supporting labeling of genetically altered
>crops, but company officials conceded the move will do little to help
>consumers know whether the products they buy come from gene-altered crops.
>    The company will label all future genetically engineered seeds it sells
>to farmers, said Wolfgang Samo, head of agribusiness at Novartis.
>    Novartis already labels its genetically engineered ``Bt corn'' seeds,
>which were designed to create plants that withstand the Eurpoean corn borer
>    ``We think that these products are overall superior to conventional ones;
>otherwise, we would not have a market,'' Samo said in a telephone conference
>call from Boston with reporters. ``Industry should thus have many reasons to
>label these products, and Novartis is doing this.''
>    But Samo conceded that consumers still may not know whether their food
>came from genetically engineered crops because of the complexities of the
>global food market.
>    ``It's not up to us to tell our customers what they should be doing,''
>Samo said. ``We give our customers the opportunity ... to make the decison
>whether he wants to label or not.''
>    When genetically engineered corn and soybean seeds were introduced in the
>United States last year, opponents -- particularly those in Europe --
>demanded they be labeled amid concerns about food safety.
>    Agribusiness groups have opposed the practice, saying it is unnecessary
>and will increase costs because genetically engineered crops would have to be
>separated from non-genetically engineered crops throughout the food chain.
>    Samo said he believed in the consumer's right to choose, and he said the
>industry could not ``reasonably argue'' against labels facilitating this
>    But Samo also said Novartis could not make the decision to label the
>product that makes its way through the crop marketing chain to grocery store
>shelves or to livestock feedyards. That decision was left up to ``our
>customers' customers' customer,'' he said.
>    Opponents of genetically modified crops reacted with scepticism to
>Novartis' announcement.
>    ``It sounds like smoke and mirrors,'' said Beth Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman
>for the environmental group Greenpeace in Chicago.
>    ``When they say they support consumers' right to choose, they're talking
>about the farmers they heavily lobby to buy their product,'' she said. ``It
>sounds to me like they're playing games with the whole concept of consumers'
>right to choose.''
>02:43 02-25-97

Philip L. Bereano
Department of Technical Communication
University of Washington
14 Loew Hall, Box 352195
Seattle, WA 98195-2195

ph: (206) 543-9037
fx: (206) 543-8858