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Panel Wants Tighter Biotech Control

December 18, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A committee formed by the United States and the European Union recommended tighter controls Monday on genetically engineered foods, including mandatory labeling of products that contain biotech ingredients.

``Consumers should have the right of informed choice regarding the selection of what they want to consume,″ said the 20-member panel, which included scientists, farmers, consumer advocates and industry officials.

Agricultural biotechnology ``holds the potential to provide new tools for farmers in developing countries to increase yields, produce crops resistant to drought, salinity, pests and diseases, and produce new crop products of greater nutritional value,″ said the panel’s report.

But it also said that new biotech products should not be allowed on the market until they have gone through a mandatory government approval process.

The report ``basically says that what we are doing right now is not enough,″ said panel member Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Consumer Federation of America’s Food Policy Institute.

Although the Clinton administration agreed to the committee, it has resisted pressure from environmentalists and consumer advocacy groups to require mandatory labeling of biotech food.

The Food and Drug Administration considers the biotech crops, such as soybeans and corn, that are now on the market to be essentially the same as their conventionally bred counterparts.

This spring, FDA said it would start requiring biotech companies to consult with the agency before bringing new products onto the market, something the industry now does voluntarily. But FDA said that mandatory labeling was not warranted.

The agency instead said it would develop guidelines for food makers to use for voluntarily labeling foods as biotech or biotech-free.

Critics of the industry hope the latest report will pressure the incoming Bush administration to reconsider FDA’s position.

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