An internal report by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has revealed that consumers want mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods.

The report, commissioned to gauge sentiment about the agency proposals for voluntary labelling, said that consumers are concerned about possible long-term environmental and health effects of genetically modified foods.

“Virtually all participants said that bioengineered foods should be labelled as such so that they could tell whether a given food was a product of the new technology,” said the report, which is based on focus groups conducted last year. “They thought it would allow them to make more informed decisions about whether or not to buy a product.”

Currently the FDA has no plans to introduce mandatory labeling on GM products. The agency concluded in 1992 that GM foods are substantially equivalent to conventional products.

The report, which has not been made public, was released by Richard Caplan of US Public Interest Research Group, a consumer watchdog group. Criticising the FDA for its stance, Caplan said the report severely undercuts the FDA public position on labeling of [modified] foods.

“There is overwhelming public support in favor of mandatory labeling, and the agency knows that,” he said. “Whether the concerns are environmental or health-related, ethical or religious, people want to know when biotechnology is being used in their food.”

The FDA conducted its research on the labelling issue with 12 focus groups in four different cities last spring. In the focus group report, consumers voiced great surprise and concern over the way that bioengineered foods have been introduced, and how widely they are now used.

“The typical reaction of participants was not one of great concern about the immediate health and safety effects of unknowingly eating bioengineered foods, but rather outrage that such a change in the food supply could happen without them knowing about it,” the report said.