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FDA objects to food labeling initiative

(Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2002 -- CropChoice news) --

MICHELLE COLE, The Oregonian, 10/08/2002: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration objects to Oregon's ballot Measure 27, which would require labeling to identify genetically modified foods sold in Oregon.

In an Oct. 4 letter to Gov. John Kitzhaber, FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester M. Crawford argued that labeling of genetically modified foods is not only unnecessary, but contrary to FDA guidelines.

"FDA's scientific evaluation of bioengineered foods continues to show that these foods, as currently marketed in the United States, are as safe as their conventional counterparts," Crawford wrote.

"Moreover," he said, "mandatory labeling to disclose that a product was produced through genetic engineering does not promote the public health in that it fails to provide material facts concerning the safety or nutritional aspects of food and may be misleading to consumers."

If Measure 27 passes, Oregon would become the first state to mandate labeling on genetically modified foods.

As much as 70 percent of the processed foods consumed in the United States contain some genetically altered ingredient. The FDA does not require special labeling of those foods, though genetically modified foods must meet the same safety standards as their conventionally bred counterparts, the agency says.

Reached late Monday, Crawford said it is not particularly unusual for the FDA to weigh in on a state ballot issue. He was unsure whether the FDA would take any further action beyond the unsolicited letter to Kitzhaber.

A governor's spokesman said Monday that Kitzhaber has not yet taken a position on Measure 27.

Environmental, health and consumer groups have raised objections in recent years about the unknown effects of changing or altering the cell structure of plants and animals to reduce the need for pesticides or otherwise improve the quality of foods.

Donna Harris, of Oregon Concerned Citizens for Safe Foods, said she wasn't surprised the FDA has gone on record against Measure 27.

"This isn't a new thing for them," said Harris, who is managing the Yes on 27 campaign. "For years, consumers have been writing letters to the FDA to let them know that they have wanted labeling."

Oregon's Measure 27 has drawn stiff opposition from the agriculture, food processing and biotechnology industries.

As of Sept. 30, the Coalition Against the Costly Labeling Law had raised $4.6 million to fund its campaign to defeat Measure 27.

Pat McCormick, coalition spokesman, said the FDA's opposition should help educate voters.

"I think it's a substantial indication of the problems with this measure," he said.

Michelle Cole: 503-294-5143; michellecole@news.oregonian.com