SUMMARY OF LAWSUIT CHALLENGING FDA POLICY
ON GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOODS
based on Press Release from
Steve Druker, Alliance for Bio-Integrity, and Andrew Kimbrell, CTA
Contact No.: 202-547-9359

Summary by 
Marjorie Rosenfeld

Washington, D.C., May 27, 1998

An unprecedented lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just been filed in Federal District Court. The suit, coordinated by the Alliance for Bio-Integrity, with key collaboration from the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA), has scientists, health professionals, religious leaders, consumers and chefs as its plaintiffs. Charging that the FDA has violated its statutory mandate to protect the public and provide it with proper information, these plaintiffs are seeking to obtain mandatory safety testing and labeling of all genetically engineered foods.

The basis for the suit by religious leaders is that the FDA's present policy of permitting genetically altered foods without appropriate labeling will make it impossible for some persons to adhere to religious prohibitions against the eating of certain animals, such as pork in the case of Muslims, pork and shellfish in the case of Jews, and animal products of any kind in the case of devout vegetarians. Religious leaders allege that the FDA is infringing the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). They also see genetic engineering as altering the integrity of God's creation and arrogantly substituting limited human intelligence for Divine intelligence.

Scientists and health professionals joining in the suit allege that FDA's policy on genetically engineered foods poses significant health risks for the public. They point out that genetically modified foods may contain antibiotic resistant genes. They also argue that a nontoxic food element could become toxic as a result of gene insertion. Such a mechanism has been postulated in the case of the genetically engineered L-tryptophan that caused deaths and injury to Americans taking this supplement several years ago. Additionally, the health professionals cite food allergies as a major health concern, pointing out that without relevant labeling allergy patients won't know which foods to avoid. In this connection, the Alliance for Bio-Integrity and the International Center for Technology Assessment mention a recent study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. In this study, a gene from a Brazil nut was inserted into a soybean. The study subjects, who were allergic to Brazil nuts but had not been allergic to soybeans, were subsequently found to react to the genetically altered soybeans.

There are currently 33 genetically altered foods sold without appropriate labeling or, as alleged by the lawsuit, adequate safety testing. These include potatoes, tomatoes, soy, corn, squash, and other vegetables as well as a number of fruits. The plaintiffs point out that many of these foods, which contain new genes from different species, are used as ingredients in processed foods and are present in a number of mass-consumed food products ranging from soy-based infant formulas to corn chips. "By failing to require testing and labeling for genetically engineered foods," states Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Internation Center for Technology Assessment, "the agency [FDA] has made consumers unknowing guinea pigs for potentially harmful, unregulated food substances."

Back to Safe-Arbor Directory