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Greenpeace slams Novartis over GM baby food

Greenpeace protesters block the entrance to Novartis headquarters with hundreds of baby dolls Keystone

The environmental organisation, Greenpeace, has been demonstrating outside the Basel headquarters of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Novartis, to protest against the use of genetically modified soya in baby food.

Greenpeace said it had detected huge amounts of genetically modified soya in Gerber baby food in the Philippines. Gerber is a subsidiary of Novartis.

It said tests conducted by an internationally licensed laboratory in Hong Kong had found that between 34 and 66 per cent of the food’s content had been genetically modified.

“That’s a really massive amount,” said Bruno Heinzer, coordinator of Greenpeace Switzerland’s genetic engineering campaign. “That cannot be involuntary contamination. That’s happening if you don’t control at all.”

Double standards

“We were promised by Novartis that they would not use genetically modified ingredients in their food worldwide,” he told swissinfo. “We have a suspicion that this might be a case of double standards because they know that we are looking very attentively at what they are doing in Europe.

“Maybe they think we are not scrutinising their activities in the Third World, which is why we conducted this investigation in southeast Asia.”

In its response, Novartis told swissinfo that it was taking the test results very seriously and would take all necessary measures if the analysis were confirmed.

“The first thing for us to do is to see whether [the allegations] really hold water, to validate the results that Greenpeace have published, and to look into it more carefully,” said spokesman, Mark Hill.

“In the Philippines as elsewhere, we source products or raw materials from suppliers who can certify that they are GM free. If you do end up with a batch that does contain some GM, although it might have been certified, then obviously this would affect the final product.

“So it’s a question of checking our batches, checking our suppliers and also the findings that Greenpeace allege they have and seeing if it’s really an issue or not.”

Gerber baby foods

Last year, Novartis said it had taken all practical steps to avoid using genetically engineered ingredients in its food products worldwide. The move followed a Greenpeace analysis, which revealed genetically engineered ingredients in Gerber baby foods in the United States in 1999, and in Switzerland in 1998.

“Genetically modified organisms have no place in our fields, on our plates or in the feeding bottles of our babies,” said Heinzer. “Nobody knows exactly what is going on in these genetically manipulated plants and so respecting the precautionary principle, it is completely irresponsible to use these GM ingredients in our food.”

However, Novartis said it had not made the GM decision because of the safety aspect.

“Novartis decided not to include GM products in its nutrition products because of consumer preferences,” said Hill. “It was not a safety decision. We only use approved and safe ingredients in all our products.”

by Vincent Landon

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR