OCA & Its Coalition GEFA Will Keep Testing for Illlegal Bt Corn
Sentries for genetically engineered corn

By Jane Kay
San Francisco EXAMINER ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER October 13, 2000

Groups that found tainted taco shells say they'll keep testing food items

Consumer groups that blew the whistle on Kraft Foods and Safeway taco shells
contaminated with genetically engineered corn vowed to keep testing the U..S.
food supply.

As a result of the latest round of tests released late Wednesday, Safeway
has pulled its house brand of taco shells out of 1,200 stores in 18 states,
three weeks after Kraft recalled its Taco Bell shells because of traces of
the illegal biotech corn.

"We're concerned that the modified corn may be in the food chain because we
don't have confidence in the government to regulate the industry to keep
this corn segregated," said Ellen Hickey, director of research at Pesticide
Action Network in San Francisco.

The taco shells contained StarLink, a corn that contains a bacterium gene
that makes it poisonous to the European corn borer and other insects.

On Thursday, Aventis CropScience -- a merger of the German company, Hoechst,
and the French company, Rhone Poulenc -- agreed at the urging of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency to cancel its license to sell StarLink.
Because StarLink contains materials toxic to insects, the EPA regulates it
as a pesticide and must license its use before farmers may grow it.

The EPA licensed it in 1998 on the condition that it would be used only in
animal feed.

A possible allergen

StarLink is the only one in an array of biotech crops that is not approved
for human consumption. Experts say it is resistant to stomach acids and
enzymes, indicating that it could be an allergen. Symptoms could include
nausea and, in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock. Foods containing potential
allergens, possibly unknown to consumers, must carry labels.

This summer about 300,000 acres, or about 0.4 percent of the total U.S. corn
acreage, was planted in the yellow corn. The U.S. Agriculture Department is
buying up all of this year's crop and then selling it for feed and other
non-food uses. USDA estimates the action will cost Aventis as much as $100
million.

Shock waves have reverberated through the biotech industry since Sept. 22,
when Kraft recalled its tainted Taco Bell Home Original taco shells after it
confirmed the use of the genetically engineered corn. Food manufacturers
have been meeting with government agencies on how to address the problem.

"We want to make sure that everything is done on the part of the government
to reassure consumers that the food supply is safe," said Gene Grabowski, a
spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

25 products tested

Safeway began removing its taco shells voluntarily out of 1,200 of 1,400
stores late Wednesday, said Brian Dowling, Safeway's vice president of
public affairs.

"We've done it really as a precautionary measure. We got word late Wednesday
that there was some evidence that the product might contain this StarLink
that has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration," said
Dowling. "We didn't do it because we were concerned that there was a safety
issue."

Dowling added that the company has asked for an explanation from the
manufacturer of the product, Mission Foods in Irving, Texas.

Genetically Engineered Food Alert, a coalition that includes Friends of the
Earth, commissioned Genetic ID in Iowa, to test the food products. The lab
tested 25 products in the categories of cereals, taco shells, corn chips,
cornmeal, corn muffin mix and enchilada TV dinners.

StarLink was found only in the Safeway taco shells, said Simon Harris, West
Coast field organizer of the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association,
a national grassroots group. But StarLink could be tainting other products
in other lots of food that the lab didn't test, Harris said.

"The recall of Taco Bell and the recent finding of StarLink in the Safeway
taco shells clearly demonstrates the need for stronger regulation," said
Hickey of Pesticide Action Network. "Since we can't depend on the
government, we want Safeway and other large retailers to follow the lead of
their European counterparts and remove all genetically engineered
ingredients from their brand products unless they can prove they are safe.."

Hickey called it "kind of strange" that the FDA hadn't investigated the
flour mills and the taco shell manufacturers in Texas and Mexicali that
helped make Kraft's shells. "If the Kraft taco shells were contaminated, why
wouldn't other products be contaminated, too?" he said.

Examiner wire services contributed to the story.
©2000 San Francisco Examiner

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