Federal health officials opened hearings Thursday on genetically altered food and why most consumers don't know when they're buying it.
Protestors say we're all eating Frankenstein foods, foods that kill the monarch butterfly, foods they say turn corn into poison. "I don't want to be a guinea pig and I'm going avoid this stuff," says one.
To answer these fears, the Food and Drug Administration held its first-ever public hearing on genetically modified foods. And there are a lot of them: sugar beets, canola, corn, cotton, radicchio, squash and tomato to name a few. In fact, half of the corn and soybean crops in the U.S. are gene spliced with bacteria, a genetic marriage that makes the plants resistant to pests.
|Children dressed as monarch butterflies protest at FDA hearings.|
"We are reviewing the whole of the policy," says Dr. Jane Henney, FDA commissioner.
No question, she says, the government believes these foods are safe. That's why it doesn't demand labeling. But just ask shoppers if they want labels.
"It would give me more information," says one supermarket shopper. "I would be aware of what I am eating."
It's that consumer demand that's making the FDA reconsider its no-label policy.
"I think that a label might be a vehicle as one of the questions we want to explore." says Dr. Henney.
Much of the food industry is fighting labels hard. Grocery makers believe 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," says Lisa Katic of the Grocery Manufacturers of America. "What we are opposed to or against are labels that could potentially misinform or mislead them."
The real concern is that what grocery makers call misinformation can be very frightening to consumers.
Congress is considering mandatory labeling. The FDA is being sued by the Center for Food Safety in Washington to force a mandatory, not voluntary, approval process.
"It's a private, backdoor, voluntary relationship between the producers of genetically engineered foods and the government that's not acceptable. That's not how we do business in this country," says Andrew Kimbrell of th Center for Food Safety.
For five years now, the biotech industry and the FDA have sat back, satisfied these foods would be accepted. But now, faced with public distrust, the government is playing catch up.