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Corn / ethanol

An ear of corn is displayed in Philadelphia on April 13, 2007. (Matt Rourke / AP)

St. Louis area residents are stepping into the growing debate over labeling of genetically modified foods.

On Saturday, the Gateway Green Alliance and Safe Food Action St. Louis plan to protest in front of the Whole Foods Market in Brentwood, asking the chain to “stop claiming that it labels GMO foods when it does not do so.” The groups are also asking for the store's management to respond to their requests for communication, which they say has not happened.

Whole Foods Market is a premier purveyor of organic foods, which by law cannot contain genetically modified ingredients. The store's in-house brand is certified “non-GMO” through a third-party certifier called the Non-GMO Project.

“We do it the opposite way,” said Kate Klotz, a spokesperson for Whole Foods. “ We label things that are free of GMOs because of the prevalence of GMOs in the food supply.”

Federal law does not require food manufacturers to label food containing genetically modified ingredients, so any product, in any store – from soy lecithin to corn syrup – can come from genetically modified crops. (The primary genetically modified food crops are corn, soy and canola.

Only a few produce items, including papaya and some squashes, are genetically modified and commercially available.) Some estimates say that roughly 70 to 80 percent of products in a typical grocery store contain genetically modified ingredients.

However, a measure that would require mandatory labeling will likely land before California voters this November, and a 19 other states have, or are, exploring similar proposals. Earlier this year, the Washington-based Center for Food Safety submitted a petition with 1.1 million signatures to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, calling for mandatory labels.

In California, where state regulators are currently counting signatures for the November ballot, the food and biotechnology industries, including Creve Coeur-based biotechnology giant Monsanto Co. are pushing against the effort, saying labeling would raise grocery prices and trigger lawsuits against any producer in the food chain. The industries have formed a group called Stop the Costly Food Labeling Proposition, which Monsanto has said it supports.