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Debate Heats Up Over Labeling Biotech Foods.

In a letter to President Cliton, over three dozen food and farm groups urge the administration to maintain its support of the federal agencies that oversee the safety of biotech foods. The group encourages Clinton to "resolutely support the science-based labeling policies of FDA particularly as they relate to the labeling of foods enhanced through biotechnology." They worry that any change in current policy could sway consumer perception of the safety of biotech foods, and undermine the credibility that the FDA currently has in verifying the safety of the nation's food supply.

Changing the rules in the middle of the game also may send the wrong signal to the international trade community. "The United States is engaged in biotechnology-related discussions in numerous international forums and it is critical that U.S. efforts to encourage science-based regulatory regimes globally are not undermined by changes to U.S. labeling policy," they said. The group includes some of the largest farm and food organizations in the country: the American Farm Bureau Federation the National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association, the Grocery Manufacturers of America and Biotechnology Industry Organization.

FDA's labeling policy for biotechnology, established in 1992, states that no special labeling is required for biotech foods unless the foods significantly differ from their traditional counterparts. Special labeling may be required where a component is added or changed, as may be the case with allergens or certain nutritional substances.

Many stand on the other side of the debate. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced a bill backed by a bipartisan group of more than 40 lawmakers and several consumer groups. The bill would require labels on all food products developed or containing ingredients derived through biotechnology. The debate over labeling was taken to the public as FDA last week began its first of three public discussions on biotechnology in Chicago. The remaining two meetings will take place in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 30, and Oakland, Calif. on Dec. 13.

The uncertainty that this debate places on the international market is causing some U.S. farmers to be concerned about next year's plantings. Currently, more than half of all soybeans and one-third of the corn crop harvested this year were genetically modified varieties.
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Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 22, 1999
Words:379
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