* Legal petition is first step toward lawsuit
* 200 organizations supporting labeling demand
* Monsanto sweet corn targeted for boycott
(Adds details, edits throughout)
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
Monsanto and other biotech seed companies oppose labeling
and say the crops and foods made from genetically modified
seeds are indistinguishable from non-GMO foods in composition,
nutrition and safety.
"The safety and benefits of genetically modified crops are
well established," Monsanto spokesman Thomas Helscher told
The action against FDA by CFS is backed by a coalition of
about 350 organizations that include representatives of the
healthcare industry, consumer advocates, environmentalists,
food and farming organizations and businesses.
Horizon Organic, one of the country's largest suppliers of
organic milk and several other organic organizations, are part
of the effort, as is The Rural Advancement Foundation
International nonprofit policy group, and Food & Water Watch
consumer rights group in Washington.
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.
A political action group calling itself "Label GMOs,
Committee for the Right to Know," is pushing a 2012 ballot
initiative in California to require companies to label foods
that contain GMO products.
The FDA had no immediate comment on the CFS 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.
Monsanto said extensive government review assures the
safety of the foods.
"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," said Helscher. "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 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)