FDA Considers Engineered Animals For Food

Two featherless chickens peck around in some grass May 22, 2002 at the Hebrew University in Rehovot. Israeli scientists at the Agriculture department of the university have genetically engineered bare-skinned chickens as part of a research project to develop succulent, low fat poultry that is environmentally friendly. The naked chicken, as the bird has been dubbed, would also save poultry farmers large amounts of money on ventilation to prevent their chickens from overheating. AP

The U.S. government will start considering industry proposals to sell genetically engineered animals as human food.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday a government review will ensure that such animals are safe to eat.

Genetically engineered animals are created when scientists insert a gene from one species of animal into the DNA of another animal to reprogam some of its characteristics.

For example, fish could be made to grow faster, or hens could be made to lay heart-healthier eggs.

It's unclear how consumers will react to such animals, even with a government seal of approval.

In May of this year, A CBS News/New York Times Poll found that 53 percent of Americans said they wouldn't buy genetically altered food. But as CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reported then, it's hard to avoid such foods because the FDA does not require manufacturers to label products that contain modified ingredients.

For example, today, more than 90 percent of the U.S. soybean crop is genetically modified - had its DNA altered to increase production and withstand chemical weed killers. And nearly three-quarters of all corn planted in the U.S. is genetically modified, Keteyian reported.

Experts say that means if it comes in a can or a box and the label lists soybean oil or corn syrup as ingredients, odds are that it contains Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Overall, 65 percent of all products in your local grocery store have GMOs...not that you'd know it by looking.

"The industry that makes genetically modified foods fought so hard to make sure that it wasn't labeled," nutritionist Marion Nestle told Keteyian.

According to another CBS News poll, 87 percent of consumers would like GMO ingredients to be labeled, just as they are in Europe, Japan and Australia. Yet the U.S. Congress has never even held a vote on the issue, to give shoppers the opportunity to exercise their most basic right - to make a choice.

The debate over GMOs in the United States started to heat up in 1999, when the FDA held it's first hearings on the subject of labeling food products that contain DNA-modified ingredients. The administration's position then, as now, was that it considered such foods safe for human consumption and therefore did not require labels. But in the face of some consumer backlash, then FDA Commissioner Dr. Jane Henney told CBS News that the agency was considering requiring labels.

"I think that a label might be one of the questions we want to explore." Dr. Henney said.

But in the end, the industry won out, as food makers sold the idea that a genetic label would brand safe foods as poison.

"The terminology that's used to talk about this, to describe this technology is frightening to consumers, they've told us that," Lisa Katic of the Grocery Manufacturers of America told CBS News. "What we are opposed to or against are labels that could potentially misinform or mislead them."
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