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Group wants labels on genetically modified foods

1m have signed petition to FDA

More than 1 million Americans are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to label genetically engineered foods, the largest number of people to weigh in on a food petition in the history of the federal agency, according to the initiative’s advocates.

Just Label It, which was organized in New Hampshire last fall, said the group has been gathering support with the help of more than 500 partner organizations across the country. Stonyfield Farm cofounder Gary Hirshberg, who helped spearhead the labeling coalition, said the goal is to ensure that all genetically modified foods include a label that advises consumers they’re eating food that has been altered - a requirement in place in more than 40 countries, including Russia and China.

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The nonprofit group also plans to release results Tuesday from a national survey it commissioned that the group said shows 91 percent of Americans favor the labeling of foods that have been genetically modified.

“I think ‘pink slime’ and the controversy within the meat industry is the latest example of how people really want to know more about their food and want transparency,’’ Hirshberg said. “Getting more than 1 million people to support the petition shows there is a clear mandate for the labeling of genetically engineered foods.’’

The FDA is required to respond to the petition by Tuesday, according to Just Label It. FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey said she could not confirm that deadline, but added that the agency would respond directly to the petitioner. There are nearly 400 comments listed with the petition on - a tally that is far lower than the count cited by Just Label It. That is because the FDA bundles comments that are identical - such as form letters - or have multiple signatures, DeLancey said. For example, Just Label It is submitting 100,000 comments on Tuesday that will appear as just one or two comments on the site.

“With regard to [genetically engineered] plants, we have not found that they, as a class, pose any different or greater risks than their conventional counterparts,’’ DeLancey said. “Of course, there are not currently any [genetically engineered] animals intended for food use that have received FDA approval.’’

A spokesman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization could not be reached for comment Monday.

‘People really want to know more about their food and want transparency.’

Gary Hirshberg Stonyfield Farm cofounder
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Manufacturers are required to label foods that are subject to irradiation or are made from concentrate, so it makes sense to be transparent about genetically modified foods, according to labeling advocates.

“ ‘Pink slime,’ deadly melons, tainted turkeys, and BPA in our soup have put us all on notice that what we eat and feed our families is critically important,’’ Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C., said in a statement.

“Americans overwhelmingly demand safety, transparency, and labeling of genetically engineered foods,’’ said Cook, whose organization is a Just Label It partner.

Jenn Abelson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jennabelson.
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