WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 — The Center for Food Safety (CFS) announced its filing of a legal petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today, demanding that the agency require all food produced using genetic engineering to be labeled.

 “FDA’s current policy uses 19th century rationale for a 21st century issue, leaving consumers in the dark to hidden changes to their food,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for the Center for Food Safety. “It is long overdue that FDA acknowledge the myriad reasons genetically engineered (GE) foods should be labeled and label these novel foods once and for all.”

 Genetic engineering (GE) techniques allow a precise alteration of a plant’s traits (facilitating the development of characteristics not possible through traditional plant breeding), and permit targeting of a singleplant trait (decreasing the number of unintended characteristics that may occur with traditional breeding), according to USDA.

 CFS prepared the legal action on behalf of the Just Label It campaign, which represents  a number of health, consumer, environmental, organic farmers and organic food companies. The campaign was initiated in the spring of 2011 by Organic Voices, a group of organic stakeholders who met in Washington, D.C. to discuss what they describe as “the contamination threat” posed by genetically engineered crops to organic farming.

 In 1992, the FDA issued a policy statement that GE foods were not “materially” different – and thus did not need to be labeled. CFS says its petition identifies a number of scientific and legal grounds that should require genetically engineered foods to labeled.

 CFS claims that GE crops have shown they carry with them significant novel environmental harms, such as transgenic contamination of natural crops and massive increases in pesticide use. But USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) documented in June that there have been significant reductions in pesticide use as more farmers planted genetically engineered seed varieties. For more on the ERS report: http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/biotechnology/chapter1.htm

 The overall reduction in pesticide use associated with the increased adoption of GE crops (Bt cotton; and HT corn, cotton, and soybeans, using 1997/1998 data) also resulted in a significant reduction in potential exposure to pesticides, according to ERS. The decline in pesticide applications was estimated to be 19.1 million acre-treatments (Fernandez-Cornejo and McBride, 2002). Total pesticides applied to corn, soybeans, and cotton declined by about 2.5 million pounds (active ingredients), despite the (slight) net increase in the amount of herbicides applied to soybeans.

 According to surveys conducted by USDA in 2001-03, most farmers (59-79 percent) adopting GE corn, cotton, and soybeans indicated that they did so mainly to "increase yields through improved pest control." The second most cited aim was to “save management time and make other practices easier” (15 to 26 percent, except for Bt corn, which was much lower); the third reason was to "to decrease pesticide costs" (9-17 percent of adopters). All other reasons combined accounted for 3-7 percent of adopters. Hence, factors expected to increase economic profitability by increasing revenues per acre (yield times price of the crop) or reducing costs (operator labor, pesticides) are expected to promote adoption most.

 About 366 million acres of GE crops with herbicide tolerance and/or insect resistance traits were cultivated worldwide in 2010.

 With the submission of this CFS petition, FDA must open a public docket where citizens can comment in support or opposition to the petition.

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