s/r home  | issues  | authors  | 17 contents

Synthesis/Regeneration 17   (Fall 1998)

Suit Filed to Force Labeling of Biotech Foods

# Dinner of Transgenic Foods (Menu)

On May 28, 1998 a coalition of scientists, religious leaders, health professionals, consumers and chefs filed a lawsuit to force the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do safety testing and labeling of genetically engineered foods. The foods being challenged include potatoes, tomatoes, soy, corn, and squash, common foods to which a variety of new genes from different species have been added.

The suit filed Wednesday in Federal District Court alleges that current FDA policy, which allows bioaltered foods to be marketed without testing and labels, violates the agency's mandate to protect public health and provide consumers with relevant information about the foods they eat.

The suit was coordinated by the Alliance for Bio-Integrity. The Washington based International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA) is handling all legal work in the case. Both groups are nonprofit organizations.

"The FDA has placed the interests of a handful of biotechnology companies ahead of their responsibility to protect public health," said Andrew Kimbrell, CTA executive director and co-counsel on the case. "By failing to require testing and labeling of genetically engineered foods, the agency has made consumers unknowing guinea pigs for potentially harmful, unregulated food substances."

The plaintiffs are challenging the marketing of 33 genetically engineered whole foods that are being sold without labeling or safety testing. They are also used as ingredients in processed foods such as soy-based baby formulas and some of the most popular brands of corn chips.

The plaintiffs are challenging the marketing of 33 genetically engineered whole foods that are being sold without labeling or safety testing.

A central issue in the case involves the consumer's right to know about new genetic material being engineered into foods.

People with food allergies are worried about foods with components they know nothing about, the Center for Technology Assessment said at a Washington news conference to explain the lawsuit Wednesday.

Millions of Americans feel obligated to refrain from some or all genetically engineered foods based on ethical and religious principles. Many Jews and Muslims need to avoid foods with substances from specific animals, while devout vegetarians want to avoid substances from any animal. Others are religiously motivated to avoid all genetically engineered foods because they view the production of these foods to be incompatible with proper stewardship of the integrity of God's creation.

Nationally recognized chef Rick Moonen, partner of Oceana and Molyvos restaurants in New York City, said in support of the lawsuit, "People come to Oceana because they trust me. They know that I'm going to source out the highest quality ingredients in the market for their dining experience. By not requiring mandatory labeling and safety testing of all genetically engineered foods, the government is taking away my ability to assure customers of the purity of the foods they eat at my restaurants."

FDA spokesman Jim Maryanski says the agency will require labeling of potential allergens. "If a gene from a food that commonly causes allergic reactions, like fish or peanuts, is inserted into tomatoes or corn, where people would not expect to find allergens, then the vegetables would have to be labeled to alert sensitive consumers."

If companies can demonstrate scientifically that the allergenic component was not transferred to the vegetable, no special label will be required. FDA's policy states that proteins taken from commonly allergenic foods are presumed to be allergens unless demonstrated otherwise.

Labeling also could be required if the nutritional content of the food is changed, Maryanski said. "Tomatoes are a major source of vitamin C, and if someone develops a tomato that no longer contains vitamin C, then that will have to be disclosed. So we envision a number of circumstances where labeling will be necessary. We've invited public comment on this issue, because we anticipate consumers will have diverse opinions about genetic engineering and about what information should appear on labels," Maryanski said.

But the FDA's bottom line is that the law says labeling for foods must disclose information that is material, as well as avoid false or misleading statements. "It's our view that the method by which a plant is developed by a plant breeder is not material information in the sense of the law," Maryanski said.

Copyright (c) 1998 EnviroLink News Service info@envirolink.org www.envirolink.org

Dinner of Transgenic Foods

The plaintiffs created the menu for a "Dinner of Transgenic Foods," all of which are currently being marketed, are products of federally funded research, or are the subject of federal permits for environmental release.

Fingerling Potatoes with Waxmoth Genes (served with sour cream from bovine growth hormone treated cows)
Juice of Tomatoes with Flounder Genes

Braised Pork Loin with Human Growth Genes
Boiled New Potatoes with Chicken Genes
Fried Squash with Watermelon and Zucchini Virus Genes
Toasted Cornbread with Firefly Genes

Rice Pudding with Pea and Bacteria Genes

[ back to top ]

Synthesis/Regeneration home page | S/R 17 Contents