ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

10 March 2003


Below is a media release on World Consumer Rights Day - March 15th.

The second item below is an overview of Consumers International's report, prepared for World Consumer Rights Day: Corporate Control of the Food Chain - the GM link.

The full report can be found here:

*Consumer groups across the globe take action on GM foods
*Corporate control of the food chain: the GM link


Consumer groups across the globe take action on genetically modified foods

World Consumer Rights Day -  15 March 2003

In celebration of World Consumer Rights Day 2003, 15 March, Consumer groups from Nigeria to Ecuador, Trinidad to Ukraine, are taking action on genetically modified foods and the methods used by agribusiness to control the food we eat.

"Consumer groups concerns'  around genetically modified (GM) foods no longer centre only on issues of food safety and the environment. The pressing issue now facing consumers is the way  in which agribusiness is using GM technology to consolidate its control over global food production", says Dr. Sothi Rachagan, Asia Pacific Regional Director, Consumers International.

Consumers International - a global federation of over 250 consumer organisations worldwide - is co-ordinating this global wave of actions on genetically modified foods to assert the principle that consumer rights come before profits and corporate control in determining what food we eat.

"There is now an urgent need to halt this process and to expose the tactics used by big business to extend yet further their control over food production through the patenting of GM seeds; the aggressive marketing of GM varieties globally, the contamination of non-GM crops and the steady stream of misinformation regarding the benefits of this technology", says Julian Edwards, Director General, Consumers International.

Consumer groups around the world will be bringing attention to this issue through a host of different activities from street protests to press conferences and live television broadcasts, to public forums and report launches. In Jamaica they will launch a study into the prevalence of GM foods in the local markets and will lobby for a regulatory framework to protect consumers, whilst in Vietnam actions aimed at raising awareness around the issue of GM foods will sweep the nation, with events taking place in 18 different provinces.

To assist consumer groups worldwide in their efforts to raise awareness around the issue of GM technology and how its development  is undermining consumer rights, Consumers International has produced a hard-hitting report entitled, Corporate control of the food chain - the GM link.  The report provides both up-to-date information on how corporations are consolidating their control over food production through the use of GM technology, and suggestions for effective campaign strategies to deal with the most pressing issue facing consumers today: corporate control of the food chain!

For further information on activities planned for World Consumer Rights Day or to arrange an interview, please contact: Maya Vaughan. Consumers International, tel. + 44 (0) 20 7226 6663 ext. 219 or mobile: + 44 (0) 7931 798 086 email:


Notes to editors:

For information on successful consumer campaigns on GM foods, see below.

A summary and full copies of the report  - Corporate Control of the Food Chain: the GM Link - can be found on our website:

World Consumer Rights Day is an annual occasion for celebration and solidarity within the international consumer movement. But more importantly it is a time for promoting the basic rights of all consumers, for demanding that those rights are respected and protected, and for protesting the market abuses and social injustices which undermine them. World Consumer Rights Day was first observed on 15 March, 1983, and has since become an important occasion for mobilising citizen action. Consumer organisations around the world use materials produced by Consumers International to generate local initiatives and media coverage for their work.

Successful consumer campaigns against GM foods:

Global: Due to Consumers International's (CI) efforts within the International Codex Committee on Food Labelling, the rights of member states to impose comprehensive mandatory labelling of GM foods has been upheld.

CI supported the right of the Zambian government to exercise its sovereignty in its rejection of GM food aid. CI also lobbied the World Food Programme (WFP) to step up efforts to source and provide non-GM food to Zambia. Non-GM food aid was eventually supplied.

Europe: GM flax seed was taken off the market in 2001 under pressure from the Flax Council of Canada and Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission because European customers said they did not want it.

Due to consumer pressure in Europe, GM tomatoes and GM tobacco - the first GM crops to be commercialised - have failed to win market acceptance and have been abandoned. GM potatoes were withdrawn from the US market.

Ukraine: As a result of pressure by the Ukrainian Consumer Association (UCA) and the Consumer Institution (CI), the Ukrainian government adopted a law ensuring the labelling  of GMOs in 2002. However, there are still many GMO products currently in circulation prior to 2002 that are not labelled. To address this issue UCA and CI are pressuring the government to effectively implement the labelling law. This means developing mechanisms for ensuring these foods are identified and labelled accordingly.

Japan: Consumers in Japan have halted the development of a herbicide tolerant GM rice, promoted by Monsanto.

Thailand: In 2002, due to pressure from a coalition of groups including, the  Foundation for Consumers of Thailand (FFC) and the Confederation of Consumer Organizations of Thailand, the Thai government have issued a ministerial regulation on the labelling of GM foods. Due to their efforts, the FFC has been appointed to the Drafting Committee for the regulation on labelling. However, the FFC continues to lobby to strengthen the regulation which currently only applies to products that contain at least five per cent of GM soyabean and maize and/or their derivatives.

Colombia: Testing conducted by Consumidores Colombia (COCO) forced the withdrawal of donated GM soya from national food aid programmes aimed at young people.

Consumidores Colombia (COCO) secured a further victory when they succeeded in reducing the area permitted to Monsanto for planting Bt cotton in Colombia from 2000 to 200 hectares.

Ecuador halted the imports of WFP aid for poor children in 2001 after the children held protests outside the WFP offices.

Brazil: As a direct result of legal action by Brazilian consumers group, Instituto Brasileiro de Defesa do Consumidor (IDEC)
Brazil became the first country in the world to prohibit the planting and commercialisation of GM foods. IDECs legal action also ensures strict risk assessments are carried out before any GMOs can be commercialised in Brazil

IDEC also succeeded in ensuring that Brazil's 1990 Consumer Defence Code included a call for labelling of all products.

IDEC and other Brazilian activist groups are currently urging President Luiz Inacio da Silva (Lula) to resist US pressure to relax a ban on GM crops in return for food aid.

Due to IDECs efforts to sensitise and inform the Brazilian public of the risks of GMO's, public awareness is incredibly strong. 71% of those that are aware of GMOs prefer not to eat them; 91% believe that they should be labelled and at least 55% do not accept claims that GMOs is the answer to world hunger.


Corporate control of the food chain: the GM link

Overview - the chain

Concern about genetic modification (GM) food technology - transferring genes  between species that do not interbred - has tended to focus on safety issues,  specifically about whether GM crops are safe for people's health and the  environment.

While peoples' health and the safeguarding of the environment remain the key  issues, they are closely related to the role of the agribusiness  transnational corporations (TNCs) behind GM technology. Corporations have  sought to reassure consumers that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are safe and will allow more choice. They do not say that if GM technology  develops in the way they plan, the food chain would be effectively padlocked,  with the corporations the sole owners of the key.

The food chain is a long one and is dominated by the corporations.  Private  companies and public sector crop breeders research and test new seed. In the case of private companies it is likely that they will patent the seed and release it to farmers to produce food from it. After production, the food may be processed locally before being traded. Importers, brokers and merchants may then pass the food to processors in importing countries, in the case of unprocessed foods, or directly to wholesalers and retailers. Finally the food reaches the all-important link in the chain, the consumer.

Apart from the retailer and the consumer, the agribusiness TNCs already have considerable control over the food chain. They are using GM foods to  consolidate that control, from seeds to consumers, through patents and other  property rights on seeds, and through perhaps their deadliest weapon of all -  the contamination of non-GM crops.

Industry claims have been seen against a background of their control of the  food chain. It may, for example, be possible for GM food companies to  engineer crops which fix their own nitrogen, eliminating the need for  nitrogen fertilisers and offering the prospect of higher yields. But it will  be a biotech company that develops any such crops,  the company that may not fully research the side-effects of such crops, and the company that will  patent and sell the seed to farmers, making them dependent.

Consumers have seen no benefits from GM technology and successful opposition is mounting.  Consumers in Japan, for example, have halted the development of a herbicide tolerant japonica GM rice, promoted by Monsanto. GM tomatoes and GM tobacco, the first two GM crops to be commercialised, have failed to win market acceptance and have been effectively abandoned. GM potatoes were withdrawn from the US market in 2001 after a series of market rejections.

GM flax seed was taken off the market in 2001 under pressure from the Flax  Council of Canada and the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission because European customers, who buy 60 per cent of Canada‚s flax, said they did not want it. Aventis has backed off from commercialising a herbicide resistant GM rice, largely because of warnings that it would be rejected by buyers.

Technologies emerge from time to time that may at fight sight seem useful,  but are in fact dangerous, not least because they hand huge power to  un-elected corporations. Genetic modification is such a technology. Corporate  control of the food chain, with the added GM link, poses a serious threat to  farmers and consumers the world over.

There is an urgent need to publicise the issues. The position of the National  Farmers Union in Canada would seem to have world-wide application: 'The NFU believes that all Canadians - farmers and non-farmers alike - must engage in an informed debate on the genetic modification of food. Citizens must examine GM food in the largest possible social, historical, environmental, economic, and ethical context. After that debate, citizens - not the corporations that promote these products - must decide whether to accept or reject GM food‚.

This kit contains five subsections that address the different aspects of the GM debate to reveal how and why corporations are exerting their control over the food chain using GM technology.

These subsections are:

1. Food Production and distribution looks at corporate control over agriculture through GM technologies and intellectual property rights regimes such as patents or plant breeders rights.

Food Aid looks at how food aid is being used as an instrument to introduce GM crops into developing countries.

2. Labelling and traceability  looks at how comprehensive labelling of GM foods and ingredients is being resisted by industry despite being essential for consumer choice

3. Regulatory regimes looks at how GM crops are being regulated

4. What‚s next?  looks at some of the latest GM technologies being pushed by the biotechnology industry, such as GM wheat, nutraceuticals, and Œpharm‚ products.

5. Frequently told lies  looks at the claims made by biotech industry and contests them!

6. GM Food safety and impacts on human health summarises what is known ˆand what‚s not ˆ about the potential risks to human health of GM food.

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