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EU/US Panel Calls for Mandatory Labeling of GE Foods

Panel Wants Tighter Biotech Control
By PHILIP BRASHER
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - A committee formed by the United States and the European
Union recommended tighter controls Monday on genetically engineered foods,
including mandatory labeling of products with biotech ingredients.

"Consumers should have the right of informed choice regarding the selection
of what they want to consume,'' said the 20-member panel, which included
scientists, farmers, consumer advocates and industry officials.

The 19-page report said the United States and Europe should set
"content-based mandatory labeling requirements'' for foods that contain
"novel genetic material,'' a term Europeans use for genetically engineered
ingredients.

The United States currently does not require the labeling of products with
gene-altered ingredients, based on the premise that they are essentially the
same as conventionally bred crops. Some panel members believe the report's
language is vague enough to support the U.S. position.

Agricultural biotechnology "holds the potential to provide new tools for
farmers in developing countries to increase yields, produce crops resistant
to drought, salinity, pests and diseases, and produce new crop products of
greater nutritional value,'' said the panel's report.

But it also said that new biotech products should not be allowed on the
market until they have gone through a mandatory government approval process.

The report "basically says that what we are doing right now is not
enough,'' said panel member Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Consumer
Federation of America's Food Policy Institute.

Under the report's recommendation, any foods with detectable traces of
genetically engineered crops should be labeled, she said.

But another panel member, Missouri farmer Ryland Utlaut, said the report
could be read to support existing U.S. policy on labeling.

"If we're not changing the content of the food or putting anything new in
it, it is saying that we do not have to label,'' he said.

Although the Clinton administration agreed to set up the committee, it has
resisted pressure from environmentalists and consumer advocacy groups to
require mandatory labeling of biotech food.

This spring, the Food and Drug Administration said it would start requiring
biotech companies to consult with the agency before bringing new products
onto the market, something the industry now does voluntarily. But FDA said
that mandatory labeling was not warranted.

The agency instead said it would develop guidelines for food makers to use
for voluntarily labeling foods as biotech or biotech-free.

Critics of the industry hope the latest report will pressure the incoming
Bush administration to reconsider FDA's position.

AP-NY-12-18-00 1301EST

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