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Americans likely to label GM foods

THE UNITED STATES has caved in to international and consumer pressure and will start labelling genetically modified foods, a leading consumer advocate said yesterday.

The decision would represent a significant climbdown by the US, which has argued that GM foods are no different from any others. But there has been a growing wave of consumer concern, and farmers have found they cannot export GM foods to the rest of the world.

Charles Benbrook, a consultant for Consumer Union and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said the US Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency would develop a plan before the December meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle.

There has been far less concern over GM foods in American media than in Europe. The US has called the European rejection of GM foods the biggest threat to world trade, and threatened a trade war. Agricultural trade interests are powerful in Washington, and many politicians receive large sums of money from the massive Midwestern farm companies.

But in the past month, there were frequent signs that things were changing. Farmers, hit by the global agricultural recession, discovered to their horror that the expensive GM seeds for which they had paid large sums of money might not be exportable. European Union environment ministers said they would not license new GM crops until a new approval system was in place.

US consumers have started to become agitated, and there are signs that they may panic. Environmental extremists have attacked fields of GM crops in New England.