Genetic food fallout
February 28, 2000
BY JIM RITTER SCIENCE REPORTER
Several major food companies and a supermarket chain have sworn off
genetically modified food, and biotechnology opponents are hoping for a
Gerber and Heinz say their baby foods won't have genetically modified
organisms, or GMOs. Frito-Lay has told its corn growers that it doesn't want
GMOs in its corn and tortilla chips. Seagram said its wines and spirits are
Whole Foods Market, a natural foods supermarket chain with seven Chicago
area stores, said it is eliminating GMOs from 600 private-label products.
Farmers who planted genetically modified corn last year plan to reduce such
plantings by 16 percent this year, the American Corn Growers Association
The moves come in response to Europe's rejection of GMO foods, the U.S. news
media's increasing coverage of the anti-biotechnology movement and efforts
in Congress to require labels on GMO food.
Nevertheless, food companies say that unlike Europeans, most U.S. consumers
aren't concerned about GMO foods.
"The level of interest is in the activists and news media," said Kellogg Co.
spokeswoman Chris Ervin. "We don't get a lot of calls."
Biotechnology companies have spliced foreign genes into corn, tomatoes,
potatoes, soybeans and other crops used in hundreds of supermarket foods.
Last year, about one-third of the nation's corn contained bacteria genes
that make the crop poisonous to insect pests. About half of the soybeans
contained a petunia gene that enables the plant to withstand pesticides.
Food companies generally haven't trumpeted their GMO phaseouts.
"We choose to not make it a marketing issue," said Gerber spokesman Sheldon
Jones. "We wanted to eliminate the concern, not cause it."
Unlike many processed foods, which contain GMOs from corn or soybeans, baby
foods have few GMO ingredients. Eliminating GMOs "has not been a huge deal
for us," Jones said. A Heinz spokeswoman said its non-baby food products
still may contain GMOs.
Whole Foods said it plans by this summer to eliminate GMOs from
private-label brands comprising 12 percent of the stores' products. For
example, a pasta sauce manufacturer switched from GMO canola oil to non-GMO
olive oil. An ice cream maker switched from GMO corn syrup to non-GMO sugar.
And a veggie burger maker is specifying its soybeans must be GMO-free.
Food companies eliminating GMOs represent "only a handful of products
compared to the vast amount of food and beverage companies in the United
States," said Brian Sansoni of the Grocery Manufacturers of America.
"Biotechnology is not the center of the radar screen for most consumers."
The biotechnology industry predicts GMO crops will make food better tasting
and more nutritious. Opponents fear genetic engineering could increase
natural toxins or decrease nutrients.
There's little evidence to support such fears. But opponents note the
industry isn't required to test GMO foods on animals or people.
A House bill introduced last year would require labels on GMO foods to
state, "This product contains a genetically engineered material or was
produced with a genetically engineered material." Among the bill's 44
sponsors are Illinois Democrats Luis Gutierrez (Chicago), William Lipinski
(Chicago) and Jan Schakowsky (Evanston).
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has introduced a similar bill in the Senate.
Noting that European countries require such labels, Boxer said, "It is only
fair that American consumers be given similar information."
Blair denounces foods in article
LONDON--Genetically modified foods are potentially damaging to human health
and the environment and a cause for legitimate public concern, Prime
Minister Tony Blair wrote in an article published Sunday.
But Blair added in his piece for the Independent on Sunday that the
potential benefits of genetic engineering are considerable.
Only a year ago, he expressed frustration at the public outcry over such
foods and said he was sufficiently confident about their safety to eat them
The Independent said Blair's article was partially motivated by the refusal
of many farmers to grow such crops on a trial basis this year.
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