- NEW YORK - Only a
third of Americans surveyed recently were aware that US supermarkets now
carry a wide range of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients,
according to the September issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
- Unlike Europe, the United States does not require labeling
for genetically engineered foods and ingredients. And unlike Europeans,
Americans generally do not appear to be concerned by the foods. This lack
of concern may be justified " Consumer Reports notes that there is
no scientific evidence that casts doubt on the safety of genetically engineered
- In genetic engineering, scientists add genetic material
from one source " such as a plant, animal, or virus " to the
DNA of another living organism. Some crops, such as corn, have been genetically
engineered to resist pests and diseases. Proponents of genetically engineered
crops argue that the products could create higher quality crops, cut down
on the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides, and increase crop yields.
- But the technology has caused some scientists to worry
about possible negative effects of this gene splicing on other plants and
animals. Opponents " spearheaded by environmentalists and organic
farmers " caution that some insects could become resistant to the
natural pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis, which organic farmers use on
- In addition, some scientists have speculated that genetic
engineering could potentially increase natural toxins or decrease nutrients
in some foods. Among environmentalists' concerns are reports that genetically
engineered corn might imperil the monarch butterfly and harm other beneficial
- In their study, Consumer Reports' investigators purchased
a variety of products from supermarkets this past winter and spring and
found that many of them contained genetically engineered ingredients, although
none of them were labeled as genetically engineered. Among the products
that they found had genetically engineered ingredients were certain soy-based
infant formulas, soy burger products, Ovaltine Malt powdered beverage mix,
Bac-Os Bacon Flavor bits, Bravos Tortilla Chips Nacho Nacho!, Old El Paso
12 Taco Shells, and Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix.
- Consumer Reports also notes that genetically engineered
crops are grown on more than one quarter of US cropland, according to recent
industry estimates. More than 35% of all corn, 55% of all soybeans, and
almost half of all cotton are now genetically engineered.
- "If US consumers want to avoid (genetically engineered)
food, their only option is to buy organic products," according to
a press release issued by the magazine.
- The Consumer Reports article also cites a recent survey
from the International Food Information Council that said that only one
third of Americans surveyed were aware that genetically engineered foods
are available in the supermarket.
- The council, a Washington, DC-based food, beverage and
agricultural products trade group, said on Monday that the Consumer Reports
article left out other findings of the survey. Among the other findings,
according to the council, "three out of four consumers expect to derive
benefits for their families from biotechnology in the next 5 years."
In addition, the council said that its research suggests that consumers
would prefer information in the form of brochures and toll-free numbers
from credible sources regarding genetically engineered foods rather than
- However, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman
told Consumer Reports, "...if the consumers demand labeling "
even if we think it doesn't convey a lot of good stuff " we're probably
going to end up with a labeling scheme."
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules currently do
not require manufacturers to obtain premarket approval for genetically
engineered plants because they "do not contain substances that are
significantly different from substances already in the diet."
- Caroline Smith De Wall, director of food safety for the
Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer health advocacy group,
told Reuters Health on Tuesday, "We have not seen any evidence that
(genetically engineered) food is unsafe." She said, however, that
other consequences, particularly regarding the environment, could become
evident in the future.
- Smith De Wall said that she believes US consumers would
favor labeling of the products, even though they have not shown the same
level of concern as Europeans have regarding genetically engineered foods.
- Unlike the US, the European Union has mandatory labeling
for genetically engineered foods, and its regulations have prohibited imports
of certain kinds of genetically engineered corn. That restriction has caused
US corn exporters to lose approximately $200 million worth of business,
according to the Consumer Reports article.
- Meanwhile, US trade officials have warned the European
Union that resistance to the genetically engineered products could cause
a major trade dispute.
- Consumer groups and environmentalists across Europe have
voiced concerns about genetically engineered crops, and in June several
European Union governments backed a de facto memorandum on approving new
genetically engineered crops until a revised approval system was established.
- Margot Wallstrom, the European Union's new Environment
Commissioner said last week that she would launch a new initiative to study
the potential long-term effects of genetically engineered crops on the
environment and human health.