The Des Moines Register
by Philip Brasher
The Obama administration shows no sign of changing the government’s position on labeling of biotech foods despite a renewed effort by consumer advocacy groups and environmental organizations require manufacturers to disclose the use of genetically engineered ingredients.
Jose Fernandez, the State Department’s assistant secretary for economic, energy and business affairs, said today that such labeling would scare consumers away from those foods.
“If you label something there’s an implication there’s something wrong with it,” said Fernandez, speaking on a panel organized by CropLife International, a group that represents Monsanto, DuPont and other biotech giants.
The State Department has been working along with the Agriculture Department to encourage foreign countries to permit the production and use of biotech crops.
The European Union as well as Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and other countries already require biotech food labeling. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has long taken the position that ingredients need not be labeled based on crop breeding methods.
The Center for Food Safety, a group long critical of biotechnology, is leading a coalition called Just Label It! that is urging the FDA to impose a labeling requirement. The effort represents a renewal of an unsuccessful effort that began when biotech corn and soybeans took off in the late 1990s.
Brazil, which is the second largest producer of biotech crops after the United States, has seen little consumer backlash against the crops from its labeling law, said Roberto Rodriguez, who served as the country’s agriculture minister from 2003 to 2006. The market absorbed the extra cost, he said.
“It’s not easy to do, because it’s expensive,” Rodriguez said of the labeling. “But the market can accept it and pay that cost.”
Brazil’s farmers seeded an estimated 63 million acres of biotech crops in 2010.
Genes from bacteria and other organism are inserted into plants to give them new traits, including resistance to insect pests, immunity to herbicides or drought tolerance. Virtually any U.S. food that contains corn or soy ingredients would have to be labeled, unless the product is certified organic. Genetically engineered seeds were used for 94 percent of the soybeans and 88 of the corn planted this year. Federal standards bar the use of biotech seeds to grow organic crops.
The Just Label It! coalition has a website that implores visitors to “flood the FDA” with comments. The message: “In America, we pride ourselves on having choices and making informed decisions. Under current FDA regulations, we don’t have that choice when it comes to GE ingredients in the foods we purchase and feed our families. Labeling is essential for me to choose whether or not I want to consume or feed my family genetically engineered foods.”
The groups behind the labeling campaign include the Environmental Working Group, Consumers Union, the United Methodist Church, organic yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm and small businesses such as Abundant Life Natural Foods in Hawai’i.