Since May, the FDA's Center for Food Safety and AppliedNutrition has received between 2,800 and 3,000 lettersresponding to the agency's call for public opinion on its policyfor genetically engineered foods, and 95 percent of theresponses reviewed so far have been negative.

The FDA last May announced that it would not impose speciallabeling or other restrictions on biofoods, based merely on theirrecombinant origin. The public comment period ended Oct. 15,though the agency will continue to review remarks as theycome in.

Microbiologist James Maryanski, biotechnology coordinator ofthe Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, who haswaded through about 1,200 comments so far, he told BioWorld,"One-third are so similarly worded as to suggest they arepatterned after form letters." These may have been propagatedby one or more of the citizen activist groups that are leery ofcloned comestibles.

On Tuesday, the New York Times carried a letter to the editorfrom Rebecca Goldburg, senior scientist at the EnvironmentalDefense Fund, stating, "We believe consumers should reject theFood and Drug Administration's new policy on safety andlabeling of genetically engineered foods."

Her letter concluded: "Let's hope that the FDA takes a long,hard, second look at its policy, which in its present formsacrifices food safety and the right of consumers to know onthe altar of regulatory relief."

On the other hand, comments from academia as well asindustry, Maryanski notes, almost unanimously support theFDA's policy.

Meanwhile, he said, "the policy remains in effect; only if wefind a factual basis to do so will we change it."

However, the FDA may organize public workshops on the twomain points in contention, labeling and potential allergicreactions to recombinant food products. These workshopswould probably be held "within the next several months,"Maryanski said.

-- David N. Leff Science Editor

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