Heinz has refuted claims by Greenpeace that the environmentalist organisation has uncovered the presence of illegal genetically modified (GM) pest-resistant rice in a Heinz baby cereal product sold in mainland China and Hong Kong.

Greenpeace claims that the product, manufactured in the Guangzhou factory in the Guangdong province, has been contaminated by GM rice ingredients. In a statement, the group said it had commissioned independent laboratory tests on 19 baby food and snack products on sale in Beijing.

“This result is truly shocking,” said Fung Ka-keung, Greenpeace food and agriculture campaigner. “This is the first time that illegal GE (genetically engineered) rice ingredients have been found in baby food products, a category that should be subject to the most stringent controls.”

However, Heinz (China) Investment Co. issued a statement today (15 March) refuting Greenpeace’s claims. The company said that previous tests conducted by independent laboratories had not detected the presence of any GM ingredients in the Heinz baby food products, including the batch of infant cereal that Greenpeace claims contains GM rice.

Greenpeace said it was urging Heinz to recall the affected batch of products and for the government to estqablish a GM food control programe. In China, companies can include GM ingredients in food products so long as their presence is indicated on the label.

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According to reports in the Chinese press, China’s Ministry of Agriculture has started an investigation of infant rice foods produced by Heinz on the back of the claims.