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Bush Officials Reject Labels
on GE Products

White House Opposes Biotech Labels
June 10, 2002

By PAUL ELIAS
.c The Associated Press

TORONTO (AP) - The Bush administration opposes the labeling of genetically
engineered food, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told the
world's premier biotechnology industry gathering.

``Mandatory labeling will only frighten consumers,'' he said during a
breakfast speech Monday at the BIO 2002 conference. ``Labeling implies that
biotechnology products are unsafe.''

Labeling food produced through genetic engineering is a touchy subject for
the U.S. biotech industry, both at home and abroad. Domestically, the
industry worries that labels would sour consumer demand.

Abroad, however, 19 countries require labeling and the European Union has
since 1998 banned the sale of any new engineered products. The ban has
angered U.S. exporters and hampered the growth of European agricultural
biotech firms. The EU is expected to consider lifting the ban later this
year, but may require labeling.

Some 70 percent of the world's biotech food is grown in the United States.
Soy and corn genetically engineered to be pest- or herbicide-resistant are
used in a wide variety of foods and drinks. The Food and Drug Administration
says the ingredients are just as safe as those produced by conventional
methods.

U.S. officials have said the labeling could cost U.S. companies $4 billion a
year.

Thompson said biotechnology can lead to safer food that are better for the
environment because of improved crop yields, among other benefits.

Critics complain that not enough testing has been done to determine the
long-term health effects of splicing the genes of two species together to
create food.

``The science is so immature, we don't know what we are doing,'' Canadian
genetics professor David Suzuki said at an anti-biotech rally in a Toronto
park on Sunday. If you took Bono out of U2 and stuck him in the Toronto
Symphony and said make music, noise would come out but you have no way of
knowing what it would sound like.''

Thompson on Monday also called on drug makers to lower their costs and
promised to overhaul the approval process of the FDA.

``We are creating an FDA where risk management is the rule and not the
exception,'' he said. ``You will not recognize the FDA a year from now.''

He said the FDA currently treats all applications the same, whether its for
cosmetics or lifesaving drugs.

While the FDA is streamlining its application process, Thompson called on
drug makers to lower the cost of their products.

``They're looked at as part of the problem instead of part of the
solution,'' he told a news conference. Some drugs sold in the United States
sell for 40 percent less in other countries, including Canada, Thompson
noted.

If drug companies don't heed the call to lower their prices, public and
regulatory pressure could ultimately lead to price controls, he said.

Thompson also said that the impact on his department of President Bush's
proposal to create a Department of Homeland Security have not yet been
detailed. Bush proposed to move 300 workers, mostly involved with
bioterrorism research, and $4 billion from Thompson's agency to the new
department.

Thompson also said a permanent FDA chief could be nominated ``within a few
weeks.'' The post has been vacant since Bush's inauguration.


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