Health

CAMPBELL, KELLOGG TARGETED ON GENE-ALTERED FOODS

Washington, July 19 (Bloomberg) -- Campbell Soup Co., Kellogg Co. and other food makers are the targets of a campaign by activists who want the industry and the U.S. government to require pre-market testing and labeling of genetically engineered food.

More than 200 chefs, religious leaders, doctors and scientists endorsed an effort to mount protests throughout the U.S. against an industry that is increasingly dependent on these crops for profits, organizers said. Today, more than 20 demonstrations were staged at grocery stores in Miami, Seattle, New York City and Madison, Wisconsin.

``This is the first time that consumer, health and environmental advocates have come together as a unified front in the United States to insist on safety testing and labeling of genetically engineered foods,'' said Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth, in a statement.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't test such foods, although health concerns have led Europe and Japan to spurn the technology that creates the ingredients for the products. Farmers planted half the U.S. soybean acreage and 38 percent of corn acreage in 1999 using seeds whose genes were modified to repel pests or resist disease.

`Well-Regulated'

The Grocery Manufacturers of America, a Washington-based industry trade group whose 140 members include Campbell and Kellogg, disputed claims that the food poses health risks.

``Food biotechnology is well regulated by three federal agencies, (and) it has been deemed safe by those agencies as well as the world's leading scientific bodies'' after thousands of field trials, said Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the group.

Joe Stewart, senior vice president of Michigan-based Kellogg, the world's largest breakfast-cereal maker, said the company provides ``high-quality food products.''

``We have done nothing and would not do anything to destroy the confidence'' of consumers, Stewart said.

Jack Faulkner, a spokesman for New Jersey-based Campbell, the world's biggest soupmaker, said his company's products ``meet all federal government requirements including labeling.'' He said Campbell has gotten ``very few inquiries'' from its customers on the issue.

Campbell and Kellogg are both using gene-altered corn and soy in their products, according to the newly formed coalition, which includes representatives from the Center for Food Safety and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

Necessary Food

The biotechnology and food industries as well as the U.S. government say the foods are safe and will be needed to feed a rapidly growing world population.

The European Union and other critics argue that the foods haven't been proven safe for human consumption.

Almost 70 percent of the U.S. public thinks the government should require more extensive labeling of ingredients in gene- modified foods, according to a poll of more than 1,000 Americans conducted last year by StrategyOne, the research division of Edelman Public Relations Worldwide.

Three of every five people surveyed said they were unaware that about half the nation's food contains ingredients derived from altered genes.

Representative Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat who has introduced legislation to require labels on gene-altered food, said ``every American citizen must have the right to choose what foods they and their family eat, and absent the genetically modified label, they'll not have this choice.''

Risks

A yearlong study by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, released in April said government regulators should do a better job of assessing the risks and benefits of genetically engineered foods.

The three federal agencies that review and permit genetically altered crops in the market should tighten their investigations on the effect on people's health and the environment, the study concluded.

In May, the Food and Drug Administration said it plans to toughen its oversight of genetically modified foods by requiring companies to submit safety data and notify the agency four months before marketing the foods. The rules were welcomed by representatives of companies including Pharmacia Corp.'s Monsanto Co. unit, which could have faced more stringent guidelines.

The FDA, which says gene-altered foods are as safe as foods grown using traditional methods, now reviews genetically modified foods through a voluntary program that encourages companies to submit data.

The agency's new plan includes guidelines for companies that voluntarily label foods to tell consumers they either contain or are free of genetically altered ingredients.


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