The Center For Food Safety (CFS) has filed a legal petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration demanding that the agency require the labeling of all food produced using genetic engineering, a move done on behalf of a coalition of more than 350 companies, organizations, scientists and individuals dedicated to food safety and consumer rights.

The CFS filed the petition in behalf of the Just Label It campaign, which advocates clearly marking foods that have been genetically modified. It was created on the premise that Americans have the right to know what it is in their food, as well as to give consumers an opportunity to take action. A full list of the campaign's partners is available here.

Genetically modified foods, also known as genetically engineered or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are those that are altered at the molecular level to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs. Scientists use DNA molecules from different sources -- and sometimes, different species -- to combine them and create a new set of genes.

CFS: Unlabeled Genetically Modified Foods Mislead Public

In the petition, lawyers for CFS wrote that because genetic engineering results in changes to foods at the molecular level that are not readily apparent and never occur in their naturally-produced counterparts, the FDA's failure to label those products is an abdication of its statutory mandate to require labeling for foods that are 'misbranded' because they are misleading under the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act.

In 1992 the FSA issued a policy statement that genetically modified foods were not materially different from traditional products, and therefore did not require a specific label. Only changes that can be tasted, smelled or known through other senses are classified as material by the agency, a policy instituted almost 20 years ago that is still in effect.

The FDA's current policy uses 19th century rationale for a 21st century issue, leaving consumers in the dark to hidden changes to their food, Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for the Center for Food Safety, said in a statement. It is long overdue that FDA acknowledge the myriad reasons genetically engineered (GE) foods should be labeled and label these novel foods once and for all.

More than 40 countries around the world, including Australia, Brazil, Russia, Japan, the entire European Union and China, already have laws requiring the labeling of foods that contain GMOs. However, Americans still do not have the same ability to know what exactly is in -- or what made -- the food they are consuming.

Although President Barack Obama said he would strive to let folks know when their food is genetically modified, because Americans have the right to know what they're buying while on the campaign trail in 2007, so far, that has not happened. Instead, the Obama administration has ramped up its approval of genetically modified crops, including Monsanto's Roundup Ready GMO alfalfa, Roundup Ready GMO sugar beets and Syngenta's GMO ethanol corn, within the last year.

The FDA is currently considering genetically modified salmon for approval. The salmon is question was developed by artificially combining growth hormone genes from an unrelated Pacific salmon with DNA from the anti-freeze genes of an eelpout, a modification that creates a fish that grows at twice the normal rate.

Public Favors Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods

Polls dating from 2001 have shown that more than 90 percent of American voters believe genetically modified foods should be labeled. An MSNBC poll conducted in February found that 96 percent of its approximately 45,000 respondents said genetically modified foods should be identified so consumers have the opportunity to consciously choose between modified and natural options.

GMOs are present in 75 to 80 present of conventional processed foods in the U.S., according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Moreover, a 2006 Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology study found that 58 percent of Americans are unfamiliar with the issue of genetically modified foods.

There have been a number of health issues associated with genetically modified foods. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine reports animal studies have shown that a diet of those products could lead to organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders and infertility. Human studies have also reportedly shown that genetically modified foods can leave material inside the body, which some physicians believe could lead to long-term health problems.

The organization also reports that the percentage of American with three or more chronic illnesses increased from 7 percent to 13 percent just nine years after GMOs were introduced in 1996. In addition, food allergies shot up, as well as ailments such as autism, reproductive disorders and digestive problems. As of now, there is not enough sufficient scientific research to solidly link the rise of those problems with genetically modified foods.