Firm Backs Biotechnology Labels Stance by Swiss Company Breaks Ranks with Industry

Article excerpt

Novartis AG, in an attempt to appease opponents of agricultural bioengineering, said it endorses the labeling of genetically enhanced crops and the products made from them.

The move places the Swiss-based agribusiness, pharmaceutical and chemical company at odds with the rest of the biotechnology industry, which says labeling genetically altered products is impractical and suggests hidden dangers.

Consumer and environmental groups, particularly in Europe, have been pushing for labeling. Novartis, born last year out of the merger between Ciba-Geigy AG and Sandoz AG, says it agrees that consumers should have an opportunity to decide for themselves whether to buy food containing altered genes. "If we believe in the right to choose for consumers, the industry cannot reasonably argue against labels facilitating this choice," said Wolfgang Samo, head of agribusiness at Novartis, at a crop protection conference in Boston. U.S. biotechnology companies, including Monsanto Co., already label the seed they sell to farmers. Since bioengineered crops often require different management techniques, farmers need to know what they are planting, said Gary Barton, a spokesman for Monsanto. But Monsanto and other U.S. competitors balk at the notion of labeling, for example, cake mix that may contain genetically engineered soybean oil, saying there is no scientific basis for it. "It sounds very good to label, but should you be labeling products simply because of a method in which they were manufactured? …