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Poultry producer Inghams Enterprises has received a slap on the wrist from the Commerce Commission for advertising its products were genetic modification (GM) free when in fact its birds were fed modified soy.
The commission completed its investigation into allegations made in consumer and trade magazines and on TV between January 2008 and June 2009, that claimed Inghams was marketing its chicken products as GM free when its birds were eating feed mixed with 13% GM soy.
In the company’s advertising, it stated its chicken products contained “no GM ingredients, have no added hormones or artificial colours.” The company also stated on its website, “Inghams GM policy is clear. Our poultry contains no GM content and are not genetically modified.”
The commission said the company risked breaching the Fair Trading Act through its false advertising. It commissioned Canterbury University professor of genetics and molecular biology Jack Heinemann to research whether chickens that have eaten GM feed could contain GM ingredients in their meat.
Professor Heinemann said; “The cumulative strength of the positive detection reviewed leaves me in no reasonable uncertainty that GM plant material can transfer to animals exposed to GM feed in their diets or environment, and that there can be residual difference in animals or animal-products as a result of exposure to GM feed."
Ingham (of Inghams Enterprises) New Zealand group executive general manager said the company accepted the commission’s decision and immediately amended its advertising campaign when it became aware of the commission’s concerns.
The commission’s director of Fair Trading Adrian Sparrow said many customers wish to avoid food products that contain GM ingredients and this is why food manufacturers "like to position themselves as GM free".
But he added consumers should be able to rely on the validity of statements made in advertising and labelling. “The message to all food manufacturers is clear – consumers want to be able to make informed choices,” Mr Sparrow said.
The commission said although it issued Inghams with a warning, only the courts can decided whether the Fair Trading Act has been breached. Such breaches may result in prosecution, and companies found guilty may be fined up to $200,000 and individuals up to $60,000.
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