Kraft Foods is the biggest U.S. food maker, with brands that include Oscar Mayer meats and Philadelphia cream cheese. The company has become the target of Genetically Engineered Food Alert, a Washington-based group which opposes the use of genetically engineered ingredients in commercial foods.
This group was responsible for the research that led to Kraft?s recall in 2000 of taco shells containing StarLink corn, which has been approved for animals but not humans. ?That was a clear instance of an ingredient that was not confirmed for use,? says Kraft spokesman Michael Mudd. ?Once we confirmed it was present in the product, we immediately recalled it.? Other companies also recalled products that contained the GM corn.
Genetically Engineered Food Alert wants Kraft to stop using genetically modified ingredients such as corn and soybeans until there has been further testing. Kraft says its foods contain only government approved ingredients. ?The FDA, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization have all looked closely at biotech ingredients and concluded that they?re safe,? says Mudd. ?If we believed there is any risk to those ingredients, you can be sure they wouldn?t be in our products.?
The U.S. does not require food labels to reveal genetically engineered ingredients. ?I think really the major issue here is that most of the American public does not realize they're eating genetically engineered food ingredients,? says Matt Rand, of Genetically Engineered Food Alert. ?This campaign ... is really going to pressure Kraft to remove their genetically engineered ingredients until they?re proven safe.?
Dr. Quentin Young, chairman of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, thinks wider research is needed on GM food ingredients, particularly their implications for children. ?About the issue of food safety, I think you can?t be too cautious because you can?t turn back,? he says.
Genetically Engineered Food Alert has pressured other big food makers to stop using genetically modified ingredients. In July 2000, they asked Campbell Soup to stop using gene-spliced ingredients in its soups, breads, juices and other products. Campbell, the world?s biggest soup maker, developed the first genetically modified food, the Flavr Savr tomato, which was engineered for a longer shelf life than ordinary tomatoes.
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The potential health effects of genetically modified foods should be investigated before allowing them to be put into baby food or to be sold to pregnant or breast feeding women, the elderly, and those with chronic diseases, the British Royal Society says.
The scientists are also concerned that the new generation of GM crops might cause allergies, particularly among farmers or workers in the food industry. England?s most distinguished scientific group published a positive report on GM food in 1998, but has now modified its position. Although there are no known health effects from the GM foods on the market, the society says GM technology ?could lead to unpredicted harmful changes in the nutritional state of foods.?
Professor Jim Smith says infants eating baby foods are particularly vulnerable, because they have such a narrow diet. If there were any nutritional deficiencies in the food, such as fewer fatty acids, their health would suffer. So far, no baby food containing GM products has been approved for sale in the U.K.
Smith is also concerned about any group on a restricted diet, such as the poor of central America, who use corn for 50% of their food.
The scientists are concerned about what is known as the rule of substantial equivalence, which the U.S. has used in many cases to decide that a GM product did not need testing because it was substantially equivalent to an existing food. This might disguise the presence of unknown toxins, anti-nutrients, or allergens, and should not be accepted in place of rigorous testing.
To learn more, read ?Genetically Modified Food? by Ronnie Cummins and Ben Lilliston, click here.
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