Zelka takes on chicken giants and wins

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Zelka takes on chicken giants and wins


by Rosemary Roberts

24th November 2009

DETERMINED: Zelka Grammer, whose complaint to the New Zealand Commerce Commission helped force Inghams Enterprises (NZ) Ltd to stop claiming its chickens contain no genetically-modified ingredients.

She's not crowing, but Whangarei's Zelka Grammer is quietly pleased to have instigated action that led to frozen chicken manufacturer Inghams being rebuked for claiming that its chickens contain no genetically-modified ingredients.

"It took time but it is certainly very gratifying," she said.

Grammer, a grower and farmer, lodged a formal complaint with the NZ Commerce Commission about misleading advertising several months ago. She also alerted the Soil & Health Association, which lodged a complaint of its own.

Now Ingham's chickens have come home to roost. The commission has warned the company that it has risked breaching the Fair Trading Act by claiming that its chickens contained no genetically-modified ingredients and says it will continue to monitor Ingham's "representations" on GE content.

The evidence behind the decision to issue the warning was collected by Jack Heinemann, Professor of Genetics and Molecular Biology at Canterbury University. The commission engaged him to research whether animals exposed to feed containing genetically-modified material (GM feed) contain "no GM ingredients".

Professor Heinemann concluded (in academic-speak) that "the cumulative strengths of the positive detections reviewed ... leave 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 a residual difference in animals or animal-products as a result of exposure to GM feed ..."

Commission director Adrian Sparrow said many consumers wished to avoid food products that contain GM ingredients and ought to be able to rely on the statements made in advertising.

"To consumers perception is everything. Someone buying a chicken that is promoted as containing no GM ingredients would not expect that the chickens had been fed on 13 per cent GM soya feed," he said.

"The message to all food manufacturers is clear - consumers want to be able to make informed choices. Breaches of the Fair Trading Act undermine consumer confidence in your products so compliance through honest representations in labelling and advertising is actually good for business."

Ms Grammer would be more cock-a-hoop if the commission had been able to slap a hefty fine on Inghams but only the courts can decide if the Fair Trading act has been breached. Companies found guilty of breaching provisions of the act may be fined up to $200,000 and individuals up to $60,000. But Ms Grammer says she will keep pecking away at the issue.

She quickly lodged another complaint when, advised by the Commerce Commission of its decision, she noted that the chicken manufacturer had not yet removed the offending *advertising* from its website.

She also plans to make a formal complaint to the NZ Food Safety Authority on inadequate GE labelling within New Zealand.

Inghams general manager for New Zealand, Mike Rozen, yesterday said the company accepted the commission's decision and had amended the advertising campaign as soon as it became aware of the Commerce Commission concerns.

Inghams Enterprises (NZ) Pty Ltd has over 8000 employees and operates throughout Australia and New Zealand. ENDS