Inghams slapped for TV adverts

The Bay Chronicle , Northland

Last updated 26/11/2009

NORTHLAND/NZ ALERT: Zelka Grammer who questioned the claims.Relevant offers


Claiming to be GM-free might have worked for poultry producer Inghams if GE Free Northland spokeswoman Zelka Grammer hadn’t been alert and persistent.

Inghams last week received a warning from the Commerce Commission that it risked breaching the Fair Trading Act by claiming that its chickens contained no genetically modified content.

Ms Grammer had lodged a complaint, giving rise to a six-month investigation.

She says she saw an Inghams TV advertisement, featuring a "GE-free fairy, buzzing around saying things like ‘to meet your needs...GE Free’.

"For a day they fooled me. I even told a neighbor and she went and bought an Inghams chicken.

"Then I thought – oh, I should ring up and congratulate Inghams. When I did, I asked them for a copy of their GM free policy. They were very cagey, evasive.

"When I insisted, they still didn’t send it.

"They finally directed me to their GM policy on their website and I was very annoyed when I read it. I was astounded that Inghams could tell such lies about their product.

"This is totally unfair to Kiwi companies such as Tegel, which has put considerable effort into putting into place identity preservation systems to ensure that any imported ingredients are GE free.

"In their advertising, Inghams stated that its chicken products contained no added hormones, GM ingredients or artificial colours, when the chickens had been given feed which contained at least 13 percent genetically modified soy.

"Inghams also stated on its website that ‘our poultry contains no GM content and is not genetically modified’."

The Commerce Commission engaged Jack Heinemann, professor of genetics and molecular biology at Canterbury University, to research and report on whether animals fed genetically modified material contain GM ingredients.

In his report Mr Heinemann says: "The cumulative strength 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."

Commerce Commission fair trading director Adrian Sparrow says consumers ought to be able to rely on the statements made in advertising.

"Many consumers wish to avoid food products that contain GM ingredients and this is why food manufacturers like to position themselves as GM-free."

Someone buying a chicken that is promoted as containing no GM ingredients would not expect that the chickens had been fed on 13 percent GM soya feed, he said.

Ad Feedback The commission has issued a warning and will continue to monitor Inghams’ representations.

Companies found guilty of breaching provisions of the Fair Trading Act may be fined up to $200,000.

Ms Grammer says: "While I’m very pleased that the Commerce Commission found in my favour, I think the consequences for Ingham should be more severe.

"This exposes a labelling loophole in food products sold in NZ. I think Inghams should be fined and forced to publically retract their false claims."

The ruling has prompted the Green Party to call for a review of labelling laws.

Green Party MP Sue Kedgley says the commission recognised, in its ruling, that consumers are interested in whether food is genetically engineered or not, and that includes what animals are fed with.

"The problem highlighted by the Commerce Commission ruling is that New Zealand does not have proper GE labelling, and so consumers have no idea whether genetically engineered ingredients or feed have been used in producing food," she says.