Further Food Fights

WASHINGTON, D.C.--In a new sign that the battle over biotech food is heating up in the United States, a coalition of 54 consumer, farming, and environmental organizations today petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require mandatory safety testing and labeling for bioengineered crops--neither of which is required at the moment. In the meantime, the groups want FDA to remove all transgenic products from supermarkets.

By law, the agency has 180 days to respond; if FDA doesn't come around, the coalition promises to go to court. "This is not howling in the wind," says Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, the lead petitioner.

Meanwhile, to counter the "nonsense" and "unfounded attacks" coming from opponents, almost 1900 scientists have signed a probiotech petition posted on the Web by Channapatna Prakashthat, director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University in Alabama. Among the signers are two Nobel laureates, geneticist James Watson and green revolution pioneer Norman Borlaug.

Prakashthat says the petition, which urges policy-makers to use "sound scientific principles" in biotech regulation, will eventually be sent to world leaders.