WASHINGTON (FNS) -- A Senate committee here last week examined the state of consumer confidence in biotech foods in the wake of Kraft Food's recent recall of taco shells that contained genetically modified corn not approved for human consumption.
Observers said, however, that with Congress set to adjourn next month for the rest of the year, there isn't time or the inclination to vote on bills requiring genetically engineered food to be labeled.
"The irony of this controversy is a growing wariness on the part of consumers about food that, to date, government, industry, academia and some consumer groups have declared safe for human consumption," said Sen. James Jeffords (R., Vt.), chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
Joseph Levitt, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the Food and Drug Administration, said a pending change in agency rules for biotech foods could help to bolster consumer confidence.
The regulations will require the agency to be notified 120 days before a food containing biotech ingredients is marketed. Details about the safety of the food must also be submitted.
"Our goal is to enhance public confidence in the way in which FDA is regulating bioengineered foods," Levitt said.
However, Michael Hansen, research associated with the Consumer Policy Institute at Consumers Union, said the food industry should back off its opposition to mandatory labeling.
"Had a mandatory labeling requirement been in place, the contaminated taco shells might never have made it to the market...There would be much more regular testing for presence of engineered varieties in commodities," he said.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), has a bill pending that would require biotech labeling, as does Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio). Neither bill has moved during the Republican-controlled 106th Congress and the issue will have to wait for consideration until the 107th Congress convenes in January.