Twisted Genetics

At the end of March, environmentalists warned the public of a massive experiment which is being carried out with their food. As part of a series of coordinated protests across the UK, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Genetic Engineering Network held actions in Manchester and Oldham to warn shoppers of the potential risks involved in using genetically engineered (GE) ingredients in our food.

Unilever, one of the world's largest food companies, is using genetically engineered soya in Bachelor's "Bean-feast". This is the first Unilever brand to be labelled as containing GE soya. By labelling "Beanfeast", Uni-lever hopes to accustom consumers to GE food, despite the risk to health and the environment. Unilever is turning a blind eye to public concern by using this "mutant" food, despite the fact that little is known about the long-term dangers involved. For example, a brazil nut gene inserted into soya was found to trigger allergies in people not previously allergic to soya.

Colin Howden, of Manchester Friends of the Earth, commented:
"Genetic engineering is unpredictable. The impact it will have on human health and the environment is unknown. But once genetically engineered organisms enter the environment, the effects are irreversible. Genetically engineered food must be kept out of the food chain."

However, it isn't all bad news. Iceland Foods have taken the lead in proving that processed foods can be guaranteed GE free. Iceland's Chair, Malcolm Walker, will ensure that from May all Iceland's own brand products do not contain GE ingredients. Currently, the only certain way to avoid genetically-manipulated foods is therefore to buy organic produce or Iceland Foods' own brands.

Positive Stance

Members of Oldham Greenpeace decided that they would participate in the national weekend campaign by celebrating Iceland's stand against using GE ingredients.

With full support from Greenpeace and Iceland, members met outside the Iceland store in Shaw (just outside Oldham) with banners congratulating the store and handed out information to shoppers on the high street about genetic engineering.

Outside the Iceland store in Shaw
Greenpeace activists outside the Iceland store in Shaw

In Manchester, activists from Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace joined together to protest against Unilever's plans to add GE soya to its products. To highlight consumer unease with GE products, "disloyalty cards" - mimicking those of supermarkets - were handed to shoppers at city centre supermarkets.

From talking to shoppers, it was apparent that people were unaware that genetically engineered ingredients were already being added to their foods, through imports of soya products from the US.

There's plenty of the "disloyalty cards" and stickers (to relabel the products correctly) left over, so if anyone wants to organise another action get in touch with the Manchester groups.

Action!

Write to Guy Walker, Unilever, Unilever House, Blackfriars, London, EC4P 4BQ, urging him to follow Iceland's lead by removing all genetically engineered ingredients from its products.

Manchester Friends of the Earth (Tel: 0161 834 8221; email: office@manchesterfoe.org.uk)
Manchester Greenpeace (0161 723 4320)


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