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A coalition of almost 400 businesses and organizations dedicated to food safety and consumer rights, including the National Cooperative Grocers Association and a number of food companies, has called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods.
The “Just Label It - We Have a Right to Know” campaign has submitted a petition on behalf of millions of consumers to the FDA, which requests the mandatory labeling of GE foods, also referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The petition calls for products that include ingredients produced by genetic engineering to reveal this information on their labels. Since 1992, the FDA has rejected labeling of GE foods. Conversely, such labeling is required in the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Brazil and China. The FDA is currently considering whether to approve the first genetically engineered animal, salmon, and if approved, whether to require labeling on it.
“We are asking the FDA to change a decade-old and out-of-touch policy,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Food Safety and lead author of the petition. “Today’s consumers are more informed than ever, and they have a right to know about the foods they are purchasing and consuming. We want the FDA to require labeling on foods intentionally produced using genetic engineering.”
The campaign website, www.justlabelit.org, provides consumers with an easy way to notify the FDA of their support for the petition and stay up to date on the initiative. The site additionally offers education tools on GE foods, the benefits of food labeling, and access to blogs and social media outlets. Just Label It has also launched a video that explains the point of the initiative: Without labeling, families are being kept in the dark.
“Polls show that consumers demand transparency in the foods they buy and overwhelmingly support labeling of GE food,” said Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Yonkers, N.Y.-based Consumers Union, the public policy division of the publication Consumer Reports. “In order to make informed decisions, the public deserves a truthful marketplace.” A 2010 Thomson Reuters PULSE Healthcare Survey found that 93 percent of Americans believe that GE foods should be labeled.
The foods most likely to be genetically engineered are processed foods containing corn, soy, canola and cottonseed oil. Almost 90 percent of corn, 94 percent of soy and 90 percent of cottonseed grown in the United States are from GE seeds, according to the coalition, adding that these ingredients are most often found in packaged foods such as cereals, crackers, cookies, chips and frozen meals.
“Scientists and consumers alike have many reasons for being concerned about the long-term health and environmental consequences of genetically engineered foods,” said Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Londonderry, N.H.-based yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm, a member of the coalition. “And the scientific debate about the benefits and risks of these crops will continue for a long time. Meanwhile, an entire generation will have grown up consuming them. While our reasons for wanting to know what is in our food may vary, the one thing no one can debate is that it is our right to know. Without labeling of GE foods, we cannot make informed choices about the foods we eat and, we all should have this choice while the debate continues.”