Gene-Altered Foods Need Mandatory Labels, Coalition Tells FDA

Genetically engineered corn, soy and plant oil should be disclosed on mandatory food labels, a coalition of more than 350 producers, trade groups and consumers said in a petition to U.S. regulators.

The U.S. should require added disclosure even when a product containing a gene-altered organism is similar to foods that aren’t bioengineered, the groups said today in the petition to the Food and Drug Administration. Stonyfield Farm, the organic-yogurt maker owned by Danone SA, and Dean Foods Co.’s Horizon Organic are among the coalition members.

Petitioners, led by the Washington-based Center for Food Safety, want to reverse a 1992 Food and Drug Administration policy that doesn’t require different labeling. Gene-altered seeds are used for almost 90 percent of U.S.-grown corn, 94 percent of soy and 90 percent of cottonseed, an oil-producing plant, the coalition said.

“Consumers ought to have the right to choose whether to be buying these foods,” said Gary Hirshberg, chief executive officer of Londonderry, New Hampshire-based Stonyfield Farm, in an interview. “Polls show a vast majority of Americans say they don’t want to eat genetically engineered foods.”

Stonyfield’s organic yogurt isn’t made with genetically modified components, Hirshberg said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture bars foods it certifies as organic from containing such ingredients.

Voluntary Disclosure

Under current rules, foodmakers may voluntarily disclose whether a product has gene-altered ingredients, as long as the information is “truthful and not misleading,” said Siobhan DeLancey, an FDA spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

Mandatory labels for gene-altered products would mislead consumers “by falsely implying differences where none exist,” said Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a Washington trade group.

“Consumers don’t want confusing debates about food politics,” said Greenwood in an e-mail. “Consumers want wholesome food at an affordable price. Agricultural biotechnology is one of the tools that ensures our food supply is affordable, reliable and safe.”

Mandatory disclosure of bioengineered ingredients may prompt consumers to choose traditionally made products, said Molly Keveney, a spokeswoman for Broomfield, Colorado-based Horizon Organic.

“The whole point of this campaign is to say this is about consumer choice,” Keveney said in an interview. “This fits very nicely with what our brand is all about.”

The Organic Trade Association in Brattleboro, Vermont, the National Cooperative Grocers Association in Iowa City, Iowa, and Washington-based Food & Water Watch are among other groups that signed the petition to the FDA.

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