WASHINGTON -- The comments period for labeling geneticallyengineered food was officially over on Tuesday, but the FDAsaid letters are still pouring in on top of 3,754 that it hadreceived by the end of last week. (The agency's all-time recordis 100,000 letters commenting on saccharin.)

Of the total comments received on labeling, 3,404 came fromindividuals, 266 from universities and companies, 35 fromassociations, 26 from congressional inquiries, 19 from abroad,and four from consumer action groups, according to the Centerfor Regulatory Services in Reston, Va.

The tally was better than 4-1 in favor of labeling. KatherineKraig of Darien, Conn., for example, wrote, "The bottom line isthat I do not wish to eat this food."

About 3,100 activists working nationwide on behalf of JeremyRifkin's Pure Food Campaign probably reached about 18,000-21,000 people, Dan Barry, the campaign's director, toldBioWorld.

On the other side of the issue, one piece of electronic mailgenerated 281 virtually identical letters arguing againstlabeling.

Among the correspondents disputing the need for labelingwere Congressional Biotechnology Caucus chairmen Cal Dooley,D-Calif., and Thomas Bliley, R-Va.; Bernard Davis, an eminentprofessor at Harvard Medical School; and Alan Boyer, directorof agricultural operations at Hunt-Wesson Inc. of Fullerton,Calif., the largest processor of canning tomatoes in the U.S.

While the comments do not constitute a scientific poll (seeBioWorld, July 19), they provide those in the industry with auseful gauge of people's concerns as well as of their levels ofignorance.

One problem the industry faces, which was reflected by someof the comments, is that many people trust neither scientistsnor officials.

In addition, a high proportion of labeling proponents worriedthat genes from allergenic foods could render other, currentlysafe foods allergenic. "I need to know what I eat," wrote SandySnyder of Lowell, Vt.

Many vegetarians wrote that they feared eating animal genes."If ... genetic material from the animal kingdom is introducedinto vegetables (my sole source of food), my religious beliefswould prevent me from consuming it," wrote Robert Hughes, aBuddhist in San Francisco.

For some letter writers, the issue was the right to know. To notlabel genetically engineered foods would be "a grave violationof my personal rights," wrote Cynthia Hinkley of Britt, Minn.

Some comments suggested that educational efforts could bequite difficult. A handful of readers reacted to writer JaneBrody's New York Times article about genetically engineeredfoods by letting the FDA know they were appalled. L.A. Wells,for example, "was truly sickened. ... I am a strict vegetarian andvery much into natural foods. I am also young and do not wishto be a guinea pig."

One young woman wrote: "Please do not let food companiesgenetically engineer foods. There is no way this can be goodfood!"

-- David C. Holzman Washington Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.