Genetic Labeling Suit

U.S. consumers are guinea pigs in a grand genetic engineering experiment, a coalition of activists charged in a May lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The suit alleges that current FDA policy allows genetically engineered foods to be marketed without testing and labels and thus violates the agency's mandate to protect the public health and provide consumers with relevant information about the foods they eat.

The coalition of scientists, religious leaders, health professionals, consumer activists and chefs joined together to challenge the 33 different genetically engineered whole foods which are currently being sold without labeling or required safety testing.

Those foods include potatoes, tomatoes, soy, corn, squash and many other fruits and vegetables to which a variety of genes from different species have been added.

"Because of the failure to require labeling, millions of American infants, children and adults are consuming genetically engineered food products each day without their knowledge," says Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Technology Assessment, which is lead counsel in the case. "By failing to require testing and labeling of genetically engineered foods, the [FDA] has made consumers unknowing guinea pigs for potentially harmful, unregulated food substances."

Kimbrell said that a central issue in the case involves consumer's right to know about the new genetic material being engineered in their food.

"Labeling and testing are also vital given the health risks that scientists have associated with gene-altered foods," Kimbrell says. "The most pressing health concern involves the impact of inserting foreign genes into fruits, vegetables and other whole foods. With each gene insertion there is the possibility that a nontoxic element in the food could become toxic and create a human health hazard."

The lawsuit also alleges that the FDA policy is a violation of religious freedom. The religious leaders who joined the lawsuit allege that many Jews and Muslims need to avoid foods with substances from specific animals and that a considerable portion of the population is religiously motivated to avoid all genetically engineered foods.

AmEx: No Privacy Privilege

American Express is trampling on its customers' right to privacy, says U.S. Representative Jerry Kleczka, D-Wisconsin, and he wants the company to stop.

American Express has teamed up with KnowledgeBase Marketing, a database marketer that collects information on more than 175 million people in the United States, to sell American Express card holders' personal information to merchants nationwide.

Although American Express has vowed not to sell information about customer transactions, the company will sell card holders' names and addresses to KnowledgeBase.

"Your personal private information is supposed to be just that -- private," says Kleczka, adding that American Express should not make card holders' personal information public without explicit written consent from the consumer.

The AmEx case is the latest in a string of examples of corporations selling customers' personal information.

In February, the Washington Post reported that the drug store chain CVS and grocery store Giant Food Inc. sold confidential patient prescription information to drug companies for marketing purposes. Both stores have since stopped selling patient information.

Kleczka has sponsored legislation that would prevent credit bureaus from selling lists of personal information, such as Social Security numbers, birth dates, mothers' maiden names and unlisted telephone numbers.

The legislation would also prohibit the commercial use of Social Security numbers without a person's prior, written consent, and forbid state motor vehicle departments from distributing lists of Social Security numbers to marketers.

DuPont Pesticides in the Eye

DuPont was hit in April with the largest administrative penalty ever doled out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

EPA Administrative Law Judge Edward J. Kuhlmann ordered DuPont to pay $1.89 million for ignoring EPA orders to stop shipping pesticides with labels that did not adequately state that protective eyewear is required when using the product.

DuPont shipped pesticides on about 380 occasions with labels that omitted the protective eyewear warnings required by the Worker Protection Standard rule, which was enacted under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act in August 1992.

This is the first case to be tried under the rule. EPA charged DuPont with improperly labeling four herbicides sold and distributed under DuPont's Bladex and Extrazine II product lines.

Based on information obtained from DuPont, EPA calculated that the company made more than $9.4 million from the sale of its mislabeled pesticides.

The worker protection rule, which covers more than 3.5 million farm workers and other pesticide handlers, requires that all pesticide products sold and distributed after April 21, 1994 display proper warning labels.

EPA estimated that at least tens of thousands of acute illness and injuries occur each year to agricultural workers because of occupational exposures to pesticides.

-- Russell Mokhiber