> >Date Posted: 07/30/1999
> >Posted by: Charles.Margulis@dialb.greenpeace.org
> >page one, Wall St Journal
> >July 30, 1999
> >Genetically-Altered Baby Foods Are Being Rejected -- by Adults
> >By LUCETTE LAGNADO Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
> >The letter scrolling out of a fax machine at the Gerber baby-food company
> >in Michigan May 28 was just one of many arriving that day and didn't even
> >name the person it was meant for, but it sure got attention. Within days,
> >it had found its way to Gerber's parent company in Switzerland, Novartis
> >AG, and come to the attention of its chief executive officer. There,
> >executives soon were taking steps to overhaul a decades-old product that
> >generates $1 billion in annual sales.
> >The letter came from Charles Margulis, a New York man who addressed it
> >simply "to the CEO" because he didn't know the chief executive's name.
> >return address was his small apartment on the Upper West Side of
> >Manhattan. But the letter also carried the logo of his employer,
> >Greenpeace, the activist European environmental group.
> >"As you know, there is growing concern around the world about genetically
> >engineered food," it said. Greenpeace is "concerned that the release of
> >genetically engineered organisms into the environment and food supply may
> >have irreversible consequences." Does Gerber use genetically engineered
> >products in its baby food, the letter wanted to know. If so, which
> >products? And "what steps have you taken [if any] to ensure you are not
> >using" genetically modified ingredients?
> >Mr. Margulis asked for a reply within five business days.
> >Europe's Ways
> >These are tense times for U.S. food and agricultural industries: European
> >opposition to importing corn and soybeans grown from genetically modified
> >seeds, or beef from hormone-fed cattle, has led to an ugly trade dispute
> >and taken a big bite out of U.S. agricultural exports. American
> >however, have so far greeted the hubbub roiling Europe with a big yawn.
> >The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says genetically modified foods
> >as safe as other foods in the grocery store."
> >But the concern at Novartis is that all this could turn on a dime -- that
> >because of Greenpeace's efforts, European worries about the safety of
> >genetically modified crops could leap across the Atlantic and damage
> >Gerber, the largest baby-food producer in the U.S. Novartis officials had
> >been hoping Gerber was immune to the anti-bioengineered-food passions
> >have whipped through Europe in recent years. The letter from Mr. Margulis
> >made them stop hoping and start planning.
> >The company firmly believes that the bioengineered foods are safe to
> >consume. Indeed, another unit of Novartis sells genetically altered crop
> >seeds with which to produce such foods. But this summer, Novartis is
> >moving rapidly to make preemptive changes at Gerber: At some cost and
> >considerable inconvenience, Gerber is dropping some of its existing corn
> >and soybean suppliers in favor of ones that can produce crops that aren't
> >genetically altered. That is to say, it will no longer buy corn grown
> >seeds modified so that the plants are resistant to corn borers, or
> >soybeans from seeds altered so the crop can tolerate being sprayed with a
> >potent weedkiller.
> >It is an issue that is suddenly confronting all the U.S. baby-food
> >producers. H.J. Heinz Co., the maker of the Earth's Best line, says it
> >just decided that this line and all other baby food it produces will be
> >manufactured without using genetically modified crops. A private
> >manufacturer in Poway, Calif., called Healthy Times Natural Foods has
> >switched from Canola oil, which sometimes is genetically altered, to
> >safflower oil after facing questions from Greenpeace. As for BeechNut
> >Nutrition Corp., it says it probably doesn't have much of a problem with
> >this because it uses no soy and little corn.
> >Gerber, going even further than what Greenpeace demands, plans to use
> >flour and soy flour that are "organic" -- that is, the crops not only
> >aren't genetically altered, but they also were grown without the use of
> >any insecticides or herbicides. Then, if the technicalities can be worked
> >out, it plans to change ingredient labels on certain baby-food boxes and
> >jars to include the word "organic." The company will still use some corn
> >that isn't organic, but it will be corn that hasn't been genetically
> >altered. Gerber, however, is cautious about offering any guarantees that
> >its products can be made totally free of such ingredients.
> >"I want our mothers to be comfortable," says Al Piergallini, president
> >chief executive officer of Novartis's U.S. consumer health operation,
> >which oversees Gerber. "I have got to listen to my customers. So, if
> >is an issue, or even an inkling of an issue, I am going to make amends.
> >have to act pre-emptively."
> >The label issue is trickier, first because of the difficulty of avoiding
> >trace amounts of genetically modified foods in the U.S., and second
> >because the FDA has strict rules about what a food producer can claim
> >about its product on its label. Yet one of Greenpeace's central demands
> >that Gerber and other baby-food makers label all their products to say
> >whether they contain genetically modified ingredients. To sort out this
> >ticklish issue, Gerber is assembling an advisory panel of outside experts
> >from several U.S. environmental and consumer groups.
> >The whole undertaking is a dicey matter, because by shunning ingredients
> >it has used for years, Gerber risks confusing or frightening its core
> >customers, as well as appearing to endorse food fears that the company
> >itself proclaims to be invalid. And who is to say more Greenpeace demands
> >won't follow if this one is met? In Europe, the organization has recently
> >started demanding that even dog food be free of genetically modified
> >organisms. But Gerber officials want to get out in front of the
> >competition on the issue.
> >And they can't take a chance, says Gerber's vice president for research,
> >Jan Relford. "The parents trust us; if they don't trust us, we are out of
> >business," he says. So he supports the supplier changes even though he
> >says the scientific evidence so far supporting the safety of genetically
> >altered crops is "2,000-to-nothing."
> >Although the FDA says it "has no information of any health effects with
> >foods derived from genetic engineering," Greenpeace's point is that their
> >long-term effects -- on health and the environment -- simply aren't
> >The organization cites various scientists and institutions, including the
> >British Medical Association, which has publicly expressed concern about
> >bioengineered foods. "Some of the effects may be subtle," says Martha
> >Herbert, a pediatric neurologist in Boston who supports Greenpeace's
> >campaign. "The problem with studying this is that the effects may be
> >In the U.S., Greenpeace is by no means the potent force it is in Europe.
> >There, armies of staffers and volunteers can target large corporations in
> >a flash, hooking up with numerous well-connected political allies to form
> >what some regard as an environmental fear brigade.
> >In the U.S., Greenpeace has only several dozen staffers and is typically
> >on the fringe of political discourse; its reputation was grist for an
> >episode of the TV comedy "Seinfeld" a few years ago. Greenpeace made
> >little headway in a previous effort to call attention to genetically
> >modified crops, when activists went to Iowa in 1996, donned biohazard
> >suits and spray-painted pink a field of soybeans.
> >Infant Formula
> >Mr. Margulis has had better luck, by shrewdly homing in on the
> >emotional issue of baby-food safety, as his Greenpeace colleagues did
> >earlier in Europe. "I am not going to be disingenuous," says Mr.
> >who recently moved his base of operations to Baltimore. Baby food
> >so many buttons. We picked it because people are going to be concerned
> >about what they are feeding their kids." Figuring the time is ripe to
> >import Europe's concerns to the U.S., he says, "I have no qualms in
> >saying, yes, I hope people do get very upset."
> >In Europe, Greenpeace has had considerable success on this front. Last
> >summer, it confronted executives of Novartis's Swiss baby-food line,
> >Galactina, asking them point blank if it contained any genetically
> >modified ingredients. Within 24 hours, Novartis blinked, saying it would
> >yank certain products off Swiss grocery-store shelves. In recent months,
> >it has made Greenpeace a firm promise that new Galactina products would
> >free of genetically altered ingredients.
> >But Galactina is tiny. It sells only three million jars of baby food a
> >year. Gerber produces 5.5 million per day in the U.S. and has U.S. sales
> >of $700 million annually, plus $300 million abroad.
> >Buoyed by this success, Greenpeace launched a similar campaign in the
> >late last year. To run it, the group hired Mr. Margulis, a peace-studies
> >graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. Unlike some
> >more-radical Greenpeace veterans, he has had only two arrests growing out
> >of environmental protests. His most flamboyant act to date: In Colombia,
> >to protest against strawberries modified with the gene of a flounder (for
> >its cold tolerance), he dressed up as a berry with fishy eyes.
> >Collecting Samples
> >The campaign started slowly. The owner of Savoy, a restaurant in the SoHo
> >section of New York, hosted a lunchtime news conference to denounce
> >genetically modified food, attended by a group of star chefs, some of
> >French. The event was largely unnoticed, but Mr. Margulis, a former
> >chef himself, formed a useful bond with the chefs.
> >Then one day this spring, Mr. Margulis went to New York-area supermarkets
> >and bought $5 to $10 worth of baby foods, from Gerber, Beech-Nut and
> >Heinz's Earth's Best. Elsewhere he picked up two kinds of liquid feeding
> >formula for the elderly and disabled, one of them made by a different
> >of Novartis. He shipped some of the samples to Britain for testing by RHM
> >Technology, a laboratory experienced at detecting minute amounts of
> >genetically modified material.
> >Within a couple of weeks, the results came back. The lab found no
> >genetically modified ingredients in the jars of baby food. But Gerber's
> >dry cereal for babies contained modified corn and soy, and the formulas
> >for the elderly also had bioengineered soy, Greenpeace said.
> >Rather than confronting companies right away, Mr. Margulis faxed letters
> >to several U.S. baby-food makers posing questions and seeking quick
> >responses. He later called Gerber's Mr. Relford in Fremont, Mich., where
> >Gerber is based, and left a voice message.
> >Although Gerber appeared to be ignoring Mr. Margulis, it wasn't. His "to
> >the CEO" letter was making its way up the corporate hierarchy, ultimately
> >sparking debate at the highest levels of Novartis, a $21 billion
> >corporation whose largest business is pharmaceuticals. For its CEO,
> >Vasella, who is a veteran observer of Greenpeace tactics in Europe as
> >as a physician, the letter was a sign that Greenpeace would try to strike
> >in his lucrative U.S. market.
> >It did. On June 18, Mr. Margulis disclosed the British lab report.
> >Venerable Gerber was guilty of using genetically engineered food in its
> >dry baby cereal, he told reporters. The news conference took place at
> >another trendy New York restaurant, Avenue, whose owners had begun
> >marketing their own brand of organic baby food -- at $2.95 a jar, five
> >times Gerber's price. Some star chefs were again in attendance.
> >Greenpeace's report accused Gerber of using "altered corn" in its cereal,
> >which it said "produces a bacterial toxin, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)."
> >The report said that when "genetically altered Bt plants grow, they
> >produce the toxin, which is an insecticide farmers use to ward off
> >pests." It also said that soybeans in Gerber baby food were grown with "a
> >toxic weed killer."
> >Gerber doesn't dispute Greenpeace's essential finding about the presence
> >of ingredients from genetically modified crops in some of its products.
> >But Novartis's Mr. Piergallini, a former boss of Gerber, angrily
> >the notion that genetically modified corn produces dangerous toxins,
> >calling this "ludicrous and inflammatory."
> >Headquarters Debate
> >While maintaining a cool outward stance, Novartis and Gerber soon were
> >abuzz with debate. Mr. Relford, a scientist and Midwesterner, believed
> >customers wouldn't be swayed by Greenpeace -- that sound science and
> >Gerber's reputation would prevail. At the same time, he wanted the
> >to be ready to act in case circumstances suddenly changed. Mr.
> >also doubted that European food attitudes would catch on in the U.S., but
> >he thought that to be safe, Gerber should quickly take pre-emptive
> >Dr. Vasella, the Novartis CEO -- having been through the Galactina affair
> >and having witnessed Greenpeace's publicity-grabbing tactics for years in
> >Europe -- pushed to find an immediate solution at Gerber. And three weeks
> >ago, the board of Novartis's U.S. arm agreed that Gerber should move
> >aggressively to deal with the problem. One key thing on the table:
> >possibly relabeling products to indicate when any of them may still
> >contain tiny amounts of genetically modified crops. Some ingredients come
> >from suppliers that handle both organic and genetically modified crops,
> >that minute traces of the bioengineered stuff may show up in even the
> >"purest" foods.
> >But there are questions as to what Gerber's labels can say about
> >genetically modified ingredients -- either their presence or their
> >absence. That's because the FDA doesn't see any health risk in these
> >ingredients. James Maryanski, the FDA's biotechnology coordinator, says
> >that companies are free to include optional information if it is truthful
> >and doesn't mislead the consumer. But "if someone wants to say that a
> >product was or was not developed by genetic engineering, and if that
> >information implies to consumers that a competing product ... wasn't as
> >safe, that would be a misleading label." He adds that the FDA hasn't
> >developed specific guidelines regarding label mentions of genetically
> >modified foods.
> >To figure out what to do, Gerber will consult a pool of non-Greenpeace
> >environmentalists who are concerned about the long-term effects of
> >bioengineered foods, and of consumer groups concerned about food safety.
> >New Suppliers
> >In the past two weeks, meanwhile, Gerber has moved to rid its products of
> >genetically modified corn used in various cereals and other foods. Mr.
> >Piergallini says it is will use mostly organic corn. While the new supply
> >will probably cost twice as much -- raising corn without weed killer or
> >insecticide is labor intensive and tends to produce lower per-acre yields
> >-- corn is used in relatively small quantities, so the move will add only
> >several hundred thousand dollars a year of expense. Once the switch is
> >made, the labels will probably say "organic corn" or "organic corn
> >The company is also switching soybean suppliers. Soon, its baby products
> >will use mostly organic soy, even though these aren't easy to find in
> >large quantities. Novartis's objective is to take the lead in the
> >baby-food industry in moving away from genetically modified ingredients
> >and set the "gold standard" for measuring and labeling these ingredients,
> >Mr. Piergallini says.
> >Will the bioengineered-food issue take hold in the U.S. as it has in
> >Europe? "I can't bet -- I plan," Gerber's Mr. Relford says. "If this
> >becomes an issue, we will be ready."
> >Copyright c 1999 Dow Jones ? Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
> >*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material
> >is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior
> >in receiving the included information for research and educational
> >purposes. ***
> >Charles Margulis
> >Greenpeace Genetic Engineering Campaign
> >1817 Gough Street
> >Baltimore, MD 21231
> >tel 410-327-3770
> >fax 410-327-2990
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