A Washington-based advocacy group, backed by hundreds of consumer, farming and health organizations, is asking federal regulators to require mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods — something the biotechnology industry has pushed against, but American consumers increasingly say they want.
The Center for Food Safety filed a petition Tuesday asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require labeling of any food product that contains genetically modified ingredients. The agency will have 180 days to respond and will have to open up a comment period.
"President Obama, during the 2008 campaign, said he was for labeling. We want to hold him to that promise," said Andrew Kimbrell, the center's executive director.
"We have an absolutely unprecedented coalition. We have the outreach to get 4 million comments to the FDA. It's an election year, and we think he can do the math."
An estimated 60 percent of the processed food on American grocery store shelves contains genetically modified ingredients, mostly from soy and corn. Roughly half the sugar sold in American stores comes from genetically modified sugar beets. Some whole foods, such as papaya, squash and sweet corn sold in American stores, are also genetically altered. The FDA is also considering a genetically modified salmon.
Monsanto Co., based in Creve Coeur, is the world's largest maker of genetically modified soy and corn seed. The company also owns the technology in genetically modified sugar beets, and recently got approval to sell genetically modified sweet corn. (Sweet corn is the type people eat whole. The majority of genetically modified corn, and the majority of corn grown in the country, is made into high-fructose corn syrup, ethanol and feed for animals.)
Monsanto and the biotechnology industry at large have said they do not support labeling genetically modified foods.
"The safety and benefits of genetically modified crops are well established. Products being grown by U.S. farmers have been thoroughly reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency," said Thomas Helscher, a Monsanto spokesperson, in a written response.
"The safety has been confirmed by food safety authorities in other countries, and these products have been approved for growing or importing in 59 countries."
The FDA has said that genetically modified ingredients do not require labeling because they are 'substantially equivalent" to conventional ingredients. While American regulators require reviews of genetically modified crops, the FDA does not perform mandatory safety testing.
The European Union, Japan, Russia, Australia, Brazil and China all require labeling of genetically modified foods. Polls show that 90 percent of Americans support labeling.