The Clinton administration has announced a series of regulatory changes and research proposals intended to shore up public confidence in the government's supervision of genetically modified (GM) food.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will in future require companies that wish to introduce any new transgenic food to provide notice and supporting scientific research 120 days in advance. This information will then be placed on the Internet for public inspection. At present, companies submit this information on a voluntary basis, and it is not automatically made available to the public.

The FDA will also develop guidelines for the voluntary labelling of GM food, and will permit producers of food containing no GM organisms to label it as such.

But the changes, which were announced last week by the White House in conjunction with the FDA, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), did not include any mandatory requirement for the labelling of GM foods.

Although widely expected, this omission led most environmental groups to reject the changes, which they branded as cosmetic. Farming and industry groups, meanwhile, warmly welcomed the announcement. The National Corn Growers Association, which represents most large maize farmers, said the changes matched its own policy and position, as stated during public hearings conducted by the FDA last autumn (see Nature 402, 571 ; 2000).

Farmers and the agricultural biotechnology industry have been pressing the government to make such changes, in the hope that they will strengthen US public confidence in GM food. GM foods are already ubiquitous in the food chain in the United States, where around half of this year's soybean crop and one-third of the maize will be transgenic.

The industry is concerned that European rejection of the technology will spill over into the United States, where GM crops were introduced after extensive scientific review but minimal public debate.

The USDA, FDA and EPA also pledged to coordinate their research programmes on the safety and risk assessment of agricultural biotechnology, although the amount of additional money to be made available for this was not specified. The USDA also said it will create standards to certify the various testing procedures that are availa- ble to establish whether foods contain GM organisms.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Council of Environmental Quality said that they would conduct a further six-month study on the regulation of agricultural biotechnology. Under a long-standing arrangement, the FDA, EPA and USDA share responsibility for this regulation, depending on the intended function of the genetic modification.