Greenpeace has revealed test results showing massive levels (between 34 percent and 66 percent) of genetically engineered (GE) soya in the soya ingredient of Gerber/Novartis baby food products sold in the Philippines.

The Swiss based food and agrochemical multinational Novartis is selling GE baby food despite its pledge one year ago to stop using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in its food products worldwide.

“Are Novartis’ promises only valid in rich countries and not in poor ones such as the Philippines?” asked Greenpeace Southeast Asia campaigner in the Philippines Beau Baconguis while presenting the test results at a press conference in Manila (Philippines) this morning.

The Philippine Congress filed a bill on 15 August 2001 requiring the labelling of GMO derived food and food products under which the penalty for failing to label would be six to 12 years in jail.

Today, in Basel, Switzerland, Greenpeace activists are protesting in front of the Novartis headquarters, blocking the main entrance of the building with hundreds of baby-puppets.

The puppets are holding protest signs saying : “Novartis/Gerber, keep your promise!” and “Novartis/Gerber, stop genetically modified Baby food!”.

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Food products in Europe are mostly GE free but unlabelled GE food is sold to consumers in other parts of the world.

“We demand an immediate stop to Novartis’ double standards policy,” said Bruno Heinzer of Greenpeace Switzerland in front of the Novartis building.

Three Novartis/Gerber baby food products sold in the Philippines were sent for testing by Greenpeace to the internationally certified Hong Kong laboratory, DNA Chips, where very high levels of GE contamination was found in the products that contained soya. For example, in the product Green Monggo’s – 66.7 percent ; Cream of Brown Rice – 52.2 percent and Mixed Fruit: 34.3 percent.

These levels of contamination demonstrate Novartis‘ deliberate intention to use GMOs in its Gerber baby food products (manufactured in Indonesia) in the Philippines. (1)

In the past Novartis repeatedly declared it would not use GMOs in its food products.

On 11 June 1999, Novartis Consumer Health head Martin Stefani wrote in a letter to Greenpeace “ Our consumers can be sure that our baby food does not contain any GMOs or parts derived thereof.“

This was reiterated by Novartis US spokesperson Al Piergallini, who was quoted in the Wall Street Journal Europe of 30 July 1999 saying: “I want our mothers to be comfortable“.

In a letter to Greenpeace dated 2 August 2000, Novartis declared it would not use anymore GMOs in its food products worldwide.

Greenpeace is now urging Novartis to respect its own pledges not only in rich nations but in all countries.

Scientific understanding of the impacts of genetic engineering on the environment and human health is extremely limited.

Greenpeace believes that citizens and consumers worldwide have the right to know how their food is produced and to refuse to eat genetically engineered food.

Information recently published by a team of Belgian scientists shows unknown DNA in the GE soya used in Novartis/Gerber baby food products. This “RoundUp Ready” soya is patented and sold by US multinational Monsanto.

Notes to the editors:

(1) In addition to the three Novartis/Gerber baby food products, the following products analysed by the laboratory DNA Chips tested positive for GE material: Nestle’s Cerelac Wheat, Kellogg‘s Chocos Chex, Wyeth’s Nursoy, and Farina’s Hot Wheat Cereal. Quantitative analysis has not yet been carried out for these products.