Magazine article World Watch

Food Giants Back off Selling Bio-Engineered Products

Magazine article World Watch

Food Giants Back off Selling Bio-Engineered Products

Article excerpt

Responding to widespread consumer aversion to genetically engineered foods, two of the world's three largest food companies - Nestle and Unilever - have agreed to phase out sales in the United Kingdom of products made with genetically engineered ingredients. Most major food retailers in the U.K. and Europe, including Cadbury, Sainsbury, Safeway, France's Carrefour, Spain's Pryca, and Italy's Migros, have pledged to eliminate such ingredients from their brands in recent months.

Public concern about possible adverse health effects from eating transgenic foods has been building in Europe for several years, encouraged by a strong grassroots movement against genetic engineering and a distrust of food safety measures that has persisted since the mad-cow scare two years ago. But consumer opposition swelled to unprecedented levels in February, 1999, when an international group of scientists validated earlier research showing that rats raised on a modified potato variety - not commercially grown at present - suffered from shrunken internal organs and suppressed immune function. A British poll conducted in March found that "9 out of 10 shoppers would switch supermarkets to avoid genetically modified food," and would be willing to travel "up to double the distance" to a supermarket which banned such foods.

The cause of the rats' reaction to the genetically altered potato is not yet clear, but the experiment confirms that current understanding of the health risks of genetic engineering remains inadequate. Dr. Marion Nestle (no relation to the Nestle company), a nutritionist at New York University, explains that "[since] transgenic foods encode for proteins that have never before been part of the human diet, the induction of allergenicity or toxic reaction is a legitimate concern. …

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