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Battle over GMO labeling rumbling in the US

NEW YORK -- A GMO labeling battle is rumbling in the United States, with those demanding full disclosure of genetically modified organisms in food products pitted against big companies.

Although some giants such as General Mills have recently taken timid steps toward being more upfront with consumers, the United States, unlike some 60 other countries, lacks a legal requirement to do so.

Still, in the world's largest economy, where almost all soy, sugar beet, corn and canola crops are genetically engineered, bills requiring labeling for GMO foods were introduced in 26 states last year.

But only Maine and Connecticut approved such measures and have yet to implement them.

Alaska adopted a law in 2005 requiring labeling of genetically engineered salmon, whose safety for human consumption is still being studied by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Elsewhere measures have been defeated, notably in the state of Washington, where voters narrowly rejected GMO labeling. Other proposals are near death or languishing in legislative committees.

But supporters of GMO labeling of food insist they are unfazed and determined to shore up more support.

“We expect even more states this year” to join the battle, particularly Oregon and Colorado, said, Colin O'Neil of the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit organization that opposes GMO foods.

While one bill in Vermont was likely to pass this month, two senators were working on federal legislation, he said.

The labeling of genetically engineered foods is “an issue that exploded last year at the state level” due to consumer pressure, according to O'Neil.

A recent New York Times poll found that 93 percent of Americans want GMO food to be labeled.

For O'Neil, “the tipping point came with the California ballot initiative” on GMO labeling that was narrowly rejected in 2012 due to a costly counter-campaign by large multinationals.

Agrochemical giants such as DuPont, Monsanto, Syngenta, and BASF, joined by food behemoths including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Kraft Foods ponied up a combined US$46 million for advertising and other means to convince voters to reject the proposal.

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A demonstration against agribusiness giant Monsanto and genetically modified organisms (GMO) is staged in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., May 25, 2013.

(AFP)

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