Genetically Engineered
Foods Now On US
Supermarket Shelves

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 foods.
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 their crops.
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 insects.
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 food labels.
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.