* Legal petition is first step toward lawsuit
* 200 organizations supporting labeling demand
* Monsanto sweet corn targeted for boycott
By Carey Gillam
Oct 4 The Center for Food Safety said Tuesday
it has filed a legal petition with the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration seeking mandatory labeling for foods made from
genetically engineered crops, a move long opposed by big
"They should label the foods and let consumers know. This
carte blanche they've been giving the industry is not
acceptable," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the
Center for Food Safety (CFS), in an interview.
"There are novel ingredients in the food that have never
been there before," he said.
The legal action by CFS requires a formal response from the
FDA and is the first step toward ultimately filing a lawsuit
against the government agency to try to force labeling,
Kimbrell said. CFS, a consumer advocacy organization, has filed
several lawsuits against the government in recent years and
successfully stymied approvals of some biotech crops.
There are thousands of unlabeled items on grocery store
shelves that contain at least traces of genetically altered
corn, soybeans and other crops. The government is also
considering approval of a genetically altered salmon.
In the summer, biotech crop developer Monsanto Co. (MON.N)
introduced a new sweet corn for consumers that is genetically
altered to make it toxic to insects and able to withstand
treatments of chemical herbicides.
The CFS and the Center for Environmental Health have been
calling on food companies that make frozen and/or canned corn
to boycott the new corn, which is not labeled as genetically
The action against FDA by CFS is backed by a coalition of
more than 200 organizations that include representatives of the
healthcare industry, consumer advocates, environmentalists,
food and farming organizations, businesses, and faith-based
In addition to the legal petition, the coalition also
launched a website petition campaign on Tuesday to encourage
consumers to pressure the FDA on the labeling issue. The
coalition argues that many other developed countries such as
the 15 nations in the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil,
Russia and China, have laws requiring labeling of genetically
engineered foods. A majority of U.S. consumers wants such
labeling as well, according to polls.
The FDA had no immediate comment on the legal petition, but
a spokesman said previous court decisions have found that the
agency does not have the authority to require labeling on the
basis of consumer interest alone.
Opponents of biotech crops have for years sought labeling
on such foods but Monsanto and other biotech seed companies
have opposed labeling, saying the crops and foods made from
them are indistinguishable from non-GMO foods in composition,
nutrition and safety.
"The safety and benefits of genetically modified crops are
well established," said Monsanto spokesman Thomas Helscher.
"All of the products being grown by farmers in the U.S. have
been reviewed by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, U.S.
Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency. The safety has been confirmed by national food safety
agencies like FDA and counterparts agencies in other countries,
as well as international public health institutions like the
World Health Organization."
The CFS legal petition alleges that the "absence of
mandatory labeling disclosures for GE (genetically engineered)
foods is misleading to consumers," and says the "requested
actions are necessary to prevent economic fraud, and to protect
consumers who are deceived by thinking the absence of labeling
means the absence of GE foods."
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City and Alina Selyukh
in Washington; Editing by Andrea Evans)