FDA Suit Wants Labels On Genetically Modified Foods

October 3, 2011
USA Today

Americans are mostly clueless about whether the food they buy has been genetically altered. But in a nation increasingly concerned about food ingredients, there’s a new push for that to change

Today, a coalition of 300 companies, organizations and doctors will announce that it has filed a petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require that all genetically engineered foods include a label that advises consumers they’re eating food that has been altered. Foodmakers in the U.S. currently don’t have to say boo about selling food whose molecules have been changed.

The actions come at a time when American consumers are more closely reading product labels and are showing greater concern about the ingredients in the foods they buy.

Critics say there are safety questions about eating such foods — and note that labeling is required throughout the European Union, Russia, Japan and even China.

But executives at the Biotechnology Industry Organization insist there’s no need for labeling. “Anyone who has ever studied the issue has come to the conclusion that there are no health issues here,” says CEO Jim Greenwood. “Unless the scientists have stopped being scientific, this will be rejected.”

Some 88% of the corn planted in the U.S. is genetically engineered, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It shows up in many packaged foods.

“This is about the consumer’s right to transparency,” says Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm and a member of the Just Label It coalition. “People deserve the right to know what they’re eating.”

The campaign includes a commercial that features a blindfolded family struggling to eat — symbolically blind to the genetically altered food. The family members wreak havoc, even knocking over dinner candles that catch the table on fire.

But the FDA is not likely to be easily swayed.

While not commenting on the petition, Tamara Ward, an FDA spokeswoman, says the agency “has not found that foods from genetically engineered organisms, as a class, present different or greater safety concerns than their conventional counterparts.”

The coalition hopes consumers will visit its website, justlabelit.org, and comment on its FDA petition, says Andrew Kimbrell, a coalition member and executive director for the Center for Food Safety.

Eating genetically engineered food, says Hirshberg, “makes guinea pigs of us all.”

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