US Food Giants Starting
to Question GE Foods

Chicago Tribune
June 28, 2002

Gene-altered foods failing to whet sales, firms find
By Ameet Sachdev, Tribune staff reporter.

While the debate rages on about labeling genetically engineered
foods, foodmakers are growing impatient with the biotechnology
industry's efforts to develop crops that have some nutritional or
health value for consumers.

A General Mills Inc. executive, speaking on a biotech panel in
Chicago Thursday, said food manufacturers receive no marketing
advantage from the current technology, which helps farmers fight
insects and weeds but offers little appeal to consumers. Instead,
foodmakers have had to deal with one controversy after another
surrounding genetically engineered corn and soybeans. Environmental
and consumer groups question the long-term healthfulness of biotech
ingredients in foods ranging from corn flakes to veggie burgers and
have called for more descriptive labeling. Their protests reached a
fever pitch in late [2000] after a brand of biotech corn [StarLink] not
approved for human consumption was found in taco shells sold by
Northfield-based Kraft Foods Inc.

"Candidly, we have told the biotech industry that we are in a
perilous situation until consumer benefits arrive," said Austin
Sullivan, senior vice president at General Mills, the
Minneapolis-based cereal-maker.

When asked why foodmakers do not stop using genetically engineered
ingredients altogether, Sullivan responded: "That's a question we
ask ourselves from time to time."

Other food manufacturers echo his views. Yet they continue to
support gene-altered crops because they believe the technology holds
promise. Indeed, biotech companies, such as Monsanto Co. of St.
Louis, are cooking up plants designed to make food healthier.

The fat composition of oil-producing plants such as soybeans and
canola is being genetically altered to help consumers lower "bad"
cholesterol and increase intake of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

But these breakthroughs will not be ready for sale for a few more
years, biotech industry officials acknowledge.

The Bush administration opposes labeling foods that contain biotech
ingredients, siding with the food industry, which fears the
information might discourage sales.

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