WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. consumer and environmental groups
urged Campbell Soup Co. (CPB.N) on Wednesday to stop using
gene-spliced ingredients in its soups, breads, juices and other
products as part of a new campaign targeting major food makers.
Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Center for Food Safety and
four other groups said they aimed to deluge the companies with
thousands of letters, e-mails and telephone calls from American
consumers worried about the lack of safety testing and labels on
foods containing gene-altered crops.
A similar public outpouring is being orchestrated at the Food and
Drug Administration, which is due to propose new regulations for
genetically altered foods in September.
Campbell Soup, the world's biggest maker of soups, is the first
company targeted by the coalition. The New Jersey-based firm
licensed the first genetically modified food -- the Flavr Savr
tomato, which was engineered for a longer shelf life.
"Campbell Soup is an American icon," said Rep. Dennis
Kucinich. "People are largely unaware that the food they are
eating is genetically engineered," said the Ohio Democrat, who
supports the new campaign and has sponsored legislation to require
labels on biotech foods.
Campbell also makes Pepperidge Farm breads and cookies, Prego
pasta sauce, V8 juice, and Godiva chocolates.
A spokesman for Campbell Soup was not immediately available to
OTHER FIRMS TO BE TARGETED
"I think you will see consumers by the millions go after
these companies," said Andy Kimbrell, director of the Center
for Food Safety, a consumer group that has pressed for strict safety
testing and mandatory labels.
"What we're hoping for is the same kind of public response
that happened at the U.S. Agriculture Department with its organic
food label rule-making," Kimbrell said. Other major companies
will be targeted over the next six months, he said.
The USDA was forced to take another look at organic food labels
after receiving an unprecedented 275,000 letters from consumers who
didn't want genetically modified crops or those fertilized with
sewage sludge to carry the label.
The green and consumer groups contend that most Americans are
simply unaware that roughly 60 percent of the foods on grocery store
shelves contain gene-spliced corn, soybeans and other vegetables. It
also contends that the FDA is not doing enough to protect Americans
from potential health and environmental risks.
A coalition of agribusinesses, farm groups and food industry
groups launched a $50 million campaign earlier this year to persuade
consumers that biotech foods are safe. They contend that thousands
of tests conducted by companies over the past decade demonstrate
gene-altered foods are no different than conventional ones.
Genetically altered crops typically have a gene inserted to help
fight pests or disease. Biotech crops in development aim to add
nutritional benefits to the plant.
The biotech food fight in the United States is especially crucial
now that Britain, France, Japan and a dozen other countries have
already restricted or banned gene-spliced foods at the behest of
The issue will be on the agenda of the Group of Eight nations
meeting in Okinawa later this week. The world's richest nations plus
Russia plan to try and agree on a framework for research and study
of biotech foods.
A GROWING CONCERN
In Washington, the FDA is preparing regulations that will require
food makers to have mandatory consultations with agency scientists
before a biotech food can go on the market. The FDA also is trying
to make more information available to consumers via its Web site.
"It is very clear to us that there are a growing number of
consumers who are concerned about these products," Jim
Maryanski, FDA biotech foods coordinator, said in an interview.
"The FDA's job is to make sure the products are safe and the
science is right," he said. "Ultimately it is the consumer
who will decide if the products survive or don't."
In April, a National Academy of Sciences study cautiously
endorsed the safety of biofoods but urged U.S. agencies regulating
them to do more to protect the environment, as well as undertake
long-term monitoring of health effects.
American farmers this year slightly reduced their plantings of
altered crops for the first time, but more than half of U.S.
soybeans and one-fourth of corn will still be grown with
Farmers, meanwhile, have a mixed view of the food fight.
"I envision myself some day growing 40 acres of a
genetically altered crop that will be marketed to a drug company and
will make a big difference in the health of people," said Vic
Riddle, an Illinois corn grower. "There is a lot of potential
with these crops that we can't even imagine yet."