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WASHINGTON - The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday said companies must do more testing before they label food as free of genetically engineered ingredients, The Associated Press reports.
Federal inspectors must also check the food periodically to make sure it doesn't contain biotech products, said Lester Crawford, deputy commissioner of the FDA.
"If it's on the label, it has to be true, and it's up to us to be sure that it is," Crawford told the House agricultural appropriations subcommittee on Thursday. Crawford said it could be months or even years before the rules are made final.
Critics of biotechnology pushed the Clinton administration to label gene-altered ingredients as such, but FDA instead proposed the labeling rules for foods that are biotech-free.
The agency would likely allow genetically modified ingredients to make up no more than about 1 percent of officially biotech-free foods, according to the AP. FDA hasn't decided how much testing is needed for the results to be statistically valid, Crawford said.
Some of the labels the FDA has suggested include, "We do not use ingredients that were produced using biotechnology" and "This oil is made from soybeans that were not genetically engineered."
Gene Grabowski of the Grocery Manufacturers of America told the subcommittee, "I don't really think you're going to see many companies going out and marketing them if we had the standard tomorrow," according to the AP.
Consumers who want to avoid bioengineered products already can buy organic products. Beginning this fall, foods that meet the government's standards for organic products, which bar the use of genetically engineered crops, will bear a special Agriculture Department seal.
Crawford also told the lawmakers Thursday that FDA has all but ruled out allowing the term "cold pasteurization" on foods that have been irradiated to kill harmful bacteria, according to the AP.
He said the agency tested the term "cold pasteurization" with consumer focus groups and found they viewed it "as kind of a ruse to conceal the fact" the food has been irradiated, Crawford said. "The public needs to know that food has been irradiated and that irradiation is safe."
He also said the special symbol that must appear on the labels of irradiated foods is "threatening to the public."