Why Clinton Waded Into the 'Frankenfood' Fray

  • Share
  • Read Later
It looks as if environmental and consumer activists aren't the only ones feeling nervous about the genetically modified (GM) crops currently sprouting from American soil. On Wednesday, hoping to stave off a European-style anti-GM panic, the Clinton administration announced a laundry list of procedures designed to make Americans a bit more comfortable in the presence of so-called "Frankenfoods." The proposed changes will establish government oversight with regard to labeling foods made with genetically altered crops (including an industry-opposed measure to label products as GM-free); allow the Food and Drug Administration a four-month lead time to test new products for safety before they're introduced into the market; and create a uniform testing procedure for every food product containing modified materials.

Why this rash of new regulations? Ask the manufacturers of the products in question. "The genetically modified food industry recognizes that they need to have consumer confidence in order to push ahead," says TIME Washington correspondent Dick Thompson. In addition, the stakes are high: Biotech crops already account for about one half of the nation's soybeans and cotton, one third of all corn, and smaller amounts of canola, potatoes and squash. And in the wake of recent consumer-driven decisions by McDonald's and Frito-Lay to stop accepting genetically modified potatoes, there's little doubt the American anti-GM movement is gathering momentum. Industry leaders hope to stop that force in its tracks by enlisting the help of the Food and Drug Administration. "The failure of GM foods in Europe was directly linked to the consumers' lack of faith in their government food regulators." And while Americans are not exactly flush with blind faith in their own government agencies, adds Thompson, the FDA does maintain a healthy degree of public trust.

Predictably, although Clinton does have the support of many in the genetically modified food industry, Wednesday's announcement will have its detractors from both sides of this increasingly heated debate. Numerous food-safety advocates argue the new regulations don't go far enough, while some industry boosters are already balking at the increased scrutiny. A word of advice: Get used to it.