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Are Biotech Foods Safe to Eat?

Most Americans have eaten genetically modified foods without knowing it, but are they safe?

Are Genetically Modified Foods Safe? continued...

Others strongly disagree.

"When you're doing genetic engineering, you're getting into a whole different mode of manipulating plants, and one, do we need to do it? Two, have enough studies been done in the past to really make it viable for commercial use?" Margaret Wittenberg tells WebMD. She is vice president of marketing and public affairs for Whole Foods Market, a certified organic supermarket chain that supports madatory labeling of GM foods. "There are just a lot of question marks, and I think many people have registered the concern that we need to have more answers before we move forward on having it commercially available at this point in time."

One immediate health concern with eating genetically modified foods is allergens. Opponents point to an incident involving Starlink modified corn. In 2000, StarLink (approved by the EPA for animal feed in 1998 but not for human consumption because of concerns it contained a protein that could cause dangerous allergic reactions) turned up in many Kraft products, including their Taco Bell corn shells. Some corn crops were accidentally contaminated with the StarLink seed. Several people reported severe allergic reactions, and major recalls resulted. In the end, the EPA said federal tests didn't conclude that genetically modified corn causes allergies, nor did they eliminate the possibility that it could not cause such a reaction.

"Contamination is a very real risk in terms of growing genetically modified crops," says Lisa Archer, grassroots coordinator for the Safer Foods-Safer Farms campaign and Kraft campaign at the nonprofit organization Friends of the Earth -- the group that sparked the StarLink investigation. "[Genetically modified crops] can contaminate neighboring crops relatively easily. Once you get this stuff out into nature it's very difficult to control where it goes, and StarLink is a great example of that."

Archer's group continues to press Kraft -- the leading U.S. food supplier -- to stop using genetically modified ingredients in their products, hoping if it does, the move will have a domino effect on other food suppliers.

Labeling: The Right to Know or Not?

To label or not to label has also been a hot button with consumer advocacy groups.

Currently, food companies aren't required by law to label foods containing genetically modified ingredients, so it's no surprise that most Americans don't know they've eaten them.

"I think consumers need to have info about the foods they're consuming. ... I think that if these products are so great, then why are there no labels? Why can people not know that [genetically modified ingredients] are in their food?" Archer tells WebMD.

Jaffe agrees that people should have the right to know. However, he says he thinks that genetically modified foods are safe and labeling isn't an issue as far as that is concerned.

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