Biotech Giant Novartis Bans GE Ingredients
from Its Brand-Name Food Products

Novartis bans GMOs from own foods

BRUSSELS, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Novartis, one of the world's largest providers
of seeds for growing genetically modified (GM) food, confirmed on Thursday
that it has made its own food products GM-free.

The Swiss agribusiness and pharmaceuticals giant which is at the
forefront of GM crop technology banned genetically modified ingredients
from all its food brands worldwide from the end of June this year.

The policy was revealed in a letter the company sent to the Belgian
office of Greenpeace in an attempt to get the environmental group to
include Novartis on its list of GM-free food producers.

Novartis said it was aiming to guarantee all its foods -- mostly
health foods such as cereal bars -- were free of GM ingredients because of
pressure from consumers. Many consumers across Europe are distrustful of
transgenic foods.

``With the current sentiment among the population towards GMOs, we
have decided to take all necessary practical measures to avoid using
genetically modifed organisms in our products worldwide,'' Novartis said in
its letter.

A spokesman for Novartis confirmed the company's consumer health
division had opted last summer gradually to phase out GM ingredients from
its food lines.

The Novartis policy even goes as far as demanding certificates from
its ingredient suppliers stating their products are GM-free.

``Consumer health, being in a consumer-driven market, has to deliver
what consumers want. We have to respond to the changing needs of the
various markets,'' the spokesman said.

Asked if Novartis' anti-GM stance conflicted with its position as a
vociferous promoter of GM seeds, the spokesman said: ``That's a totally
different question.''

``All our business centres operate independently in totally different
markets. The market for seeds is totally different from the market for food
products,'' he said.


Genetically modified food -- made from plants whose gene sequence has
been scientifically altered to give qualities such as resistance to
pesticides -- has caused increasing concern among consumers and
environmentalists who fear the new technology could pose a threat to human
health or nature.

European Union governments have become so sensitive to the issue that
they have refused to grant any new authorisations for GM crops for the last
two years.

Among the crops currently languishing in the EU's stalled
authorisation procedure is a Novartis GM maize.

The Novartis spokesman pointed out that the firm was about to spin off
its agribusiness unit into a joint venture with AstraZeneca.

The move would clearly separate the company that makes GMOs from the
firm that bans them from its food products.

However, this did not mean Novartis was turning its back on
biotechnology, which would continue to be important for its pharmaceutical
division, the spokesman said.

``We are convinced that GM plants provide advantages to farmers and
processors and will offer clear benefits to consumers in the future,'' he

Novartis is not the first biotechnology company to be accused of
double standards on GMOs, as Greenpeace has done in this case.

In December last year, U.S. rival Monsanto was embarrassed by press
reports that it had banned GM foods from its own staff canteen run by an
independent caterer at one of its British offices.

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