On Monday, the day before World Consumer Rights Day, Greenpeace accused two of the world's leading food producers of using genetically modified ingredients in their products sold in China.
An inspection of 28 food products that was commissioned by the environmental protection organization earlier this year revealed that the Ritz crackers, produced by Kraft Foods, and the corn soup of the Campbell Soup Company contained genetically engineered soybeans.
Greenpeace campaigner Ma Tianjie said in a press release that the two food producers, which have agreed not to use GM ingredients in products sold in Europe, have failed to apply the same standards in China.
Ma said the two companies have violated Chinese consumers' rights of access to information on foods they buy.
"Chinese consumers deserve the same rights and safety standards. Adopting double standards is irresponsible to consumers and will also tarnish the business credibility of the two companies," Ma said.
China's regulations require labeling only of GM soybeans, corn, rape, cotton and tomatoes, their seeds and edible oil made from them.
Kraft is the second largest food producer in the world and has opened several ventures in China. Campbell is a leading soup provider.
Campbell Soup Asia Ltd. told China Daily on Monday that its Golden Corn soup is manufactured in North America, where almost 70 percent of all soybeans are genetically modified.
Highly refined soy protein is used as a flavor enhancer in the soup. That means it is a minor constituent, so if the soup does contain genetically modified material it would be at an extremely low level, the company said.
It says food labeling regulations are currently being reviewed and modified in many countries, including China, and the company will comply with local regulations at all times.
China Daily reported that Kraft declined to comment when it contacted the company, but on its website Kraft admits GM ingredients may be used in its products in Asia.
Meanwhile, the latest consumer survey commissioned by Greenpeace shows that Chinese consumers have become more aware of GM food and more of them are rejecting it. International market research company Ipsos conducted the survey in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, with 200 people questioned in each of the three cities.
According to the survey, 62 percent of respondents are aware of GM food, compared with 52 percent in a similar survey commissioned by Greenpeace a year ago.
The proportion of respondents who think it is necessary to label GM food was 83 percent, down from the previous 90 percent.
But 57 percent said they would choose non-GM food over the modified version, a dramatic rise from 40 percent in the previous survey.
Some 73 percent said they would choose non-GM rice over the modified version.
China has been considering commercializing GM rice in an effort to boost grain production and reduce the use of dangerous pesticides. Officials say a decision may be made by the middle of the year.
If the country gives the project the green light, it will be the first in the world to experiment with genetic modification in its staple crop, according to Greenpeace.
The focus of this year's World Consumer Rights Day is genetically modified organisms. A global campaign is being conducted to demand that alternatives to GM foods be protected, as well as to ensure that all GM foods are labeled and undergo independent safety testing.
(China.org.cn, agencies March 15, 2005)