Buoyed by a backlash in Europe and elsewhere, U.S. critics have increased demands that bioengineered foods be labeled here. Two U.S. baby-food makers even announced they no longer would use biotech ingredients.
Health experts insist biotech foods now sold are safe. They already are used widely, from the soybeans and corn of tortilla chips and soft drinks to tomatoes stewed into spaghetti sauce.
"Although people have enthusiastically accepted new drugs made from biotechnology, some consumers have concerns about the use of this technology in foods," said Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. "We need to ask why those concerns exist, and how we can address them."
So the FDA begins unusual public meetings next month to explain how it determines a genetically engineered food is safe, and to get the public's reaction.
Meetings will be in Chicago on Nov. 18, Washington on Nov. 30 and in Oakland, Calif., on Dec. 13.