WASHINGTON (B)--A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a coalition that is opposed to agricultural biotechnology and is seeking to overturn FDA's regulatory regime and labeling rules for agricultural biotechnology and foods made with genetically modified crops.

In a 27-page judgment issued on Sept. 29 but not made public until Oct. 4, the court found that FDA's 1992 policy statement on agricultural biotechnology was not "a major federal action" that required rule making, public hearings and an environmental impact report.

"Dismissal of the case against the Food and Drug Administration is a huge victory for FDA and consumers," said Michael Philips, a senior official with the Biotechnology Industry Council.

"This action is particularly timely when the safety and acceptance of foods and crops improved through biotechnology continue to be challenged on the grounds of scare tactics rather than science, risk assessment, or consumer benefits," Philips said.

The court--which earlier this year dismissed a Greenpeace case against FDA over biotech crops--ruled in favor of FDA largely on the basis of precedence and on language. FDA "presumes" biotech crops to be "generally recognized as safe" rather than "declares" them "generally recognized as safe," thus both sidestepping formal rulemaking procedures and allowing its own processes to work.

"The presumption of safety is rebuttable, because FDA will 'require food additive petitions in cases where safety questions exist sufficient to warrant formal premarket review by FDA to ensure public health protection," Federal Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotley wrote in her opinion.

The court also sided with FDA's interpretation of its own rules that exempt biotech crops from environmental impact reports and found that FDA was "not arbitrary and capricious" in deciding not to order the labeling of foods made with biotech crops.

Judge Kollar-Kotley also ruled that the presence of unlabeled biotech crops in the food chain do not violate the first amendment rights of those who are opposed on religious grounds to eating genetically altered foods because the FDA rules on GMOs are "neutral" and "generally applicable" and therefore legal even if they "incidentally burden religion."

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