GE Free Labeling Rules Put
on Hold by FDA

Labeling rules for biotech-free foods on hold while FDA decides how to
enforce them



Companies that want to label food as free of genetically engineered
ingredients will have to wait while the government decides how to make sure
it's true.

The food would have to be tested by the companies and checked periodically
by federal inspectors to make sure it doesn't contain biotech products, said
Lester Crawford, deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.
"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. FDA proposed labeling rules for non-biotech foods in January 2001,
during the final days of the Clinton administration. But Crawford, an
appointee of the Bush administration, said it could be months or even years
before the rules are made final.

Genetically engineered soy and corn are used in a wide variety of foods and
drinks. FDA says the ingredients are just as safe as those produced by
conventional methods.

Critics of biotechnology pushed the Clinton administration to require foods
with gene-altered ingredients to be labeled as such, but FDA refused.
Instead, it 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. FDA plans to
check a portion to make sure foods meet the standard, but hasn't decided how
much testing is needed for the results to be statistically valid, Crawford

FDA has suggested several possible labels, including "We do not use
ingredients that were produced using biotechnology" and "This oil is made
from soybeans that were not genetically engineered."

A food industry spokesman said few consumers appear interested in buying
non-biotech products. "I don't really think you're going to see many
companies going out and marketing them if we had the standard tomorrow,"
said Gene Grabowski of the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

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.

The food industry has been slow to use irradiation because of consumer
resistance to the term. Lawmakers have been pushing FDA to allow such
products to be called pasteurized.

But 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."

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