The Food and Drug Administration will take its first look at the safety of foods that are genetically altered to enhance certain qualities, such as freshness.

Although the agency questions its legal authority to regulate genetically altered fruits, vegetables and other food crops, the FDA said Tuesday it will grant a California company's request for review of a well-known "marker" gene to produce genetically engineered tomato, cotton and rapeseed plants."Even though we don't have legal authority, people are going to ask us, `Is it safe?' " said FDA spokesman Bill Grigg. He said the agency may decide it has jurisdiction over food plants whose genetic makeup has been manipulated.

Gene altering is used to create or enhance specific traits in foods.