Genetically modified (GM) crops, and foods derived from them, continue to ignite controversy and spur jockeying by trade groups and businesses. At its January convention in Houston, the American Farm Bureau Federation, which represents the interests of farmers, released results of a survey last summer on attitudes toward biotechnology and food. Biotechnology was supported by 57 percent of the 1,002 respondents if it improved taste, 65 percent if it improved nutritional value, 69 percent if it increased food production, and 73 percent if it reduced pesticide use.1

Some companies, however, appear to be getting a different message. Last month, the two largest natural-food chains in the United States, Wild Oats Markets and Whole Foods Market, indicated that their house brands would soon be free of GM materials. This development follows similar moves by Gerber Products Co. and H.J. Heinz Co.

The contentiousness surrounding GM food enlivened a symposium on...

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