US Probes Biotech Corn in Taco Bell Shells : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Monday September 18 7:01 PM ET

US Probes Biotech Corn in Taco Bell Shells


By Julie Vorman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government said Monday it was investigating a type of bioengineered corn fed to livestock that may have crept into Taco Bell shells and could cause an allergic reaction in some consumers.

News about the alleged unapproved use of the corn variety in human food comes at a time when the Clinton administration is finalizing guidelines to use in approving new varieties of bio-engineered foods.

The corn at issue contains a protein that government scientists said was safe to eat for cattle, pigs and other farm animals, but could be an allergen for humans.

Regulators said if they determined the corn was in taco shells or other human food, the products would be immediately pulled off the market.

``This product is not licensed in any shape or form to be in products that human beings eat. If we find there was any infraction, then we're going to come down very, very hard on those responsible,'' said Dave Cohen, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA and the Food and Drug Administration, which share authority over gene-spliced foods, are jointly investigating.

Before the government considers any recall, it must first confirm if the unapproved corn is in Taco Bell shells sold in grocery stores, as alleged by the anti-biotech green group, Friends of the Earth.

The boxes of taco shells sold under the Taco Bell brand were produced by Kraft Foods Inc, a unit of Philip Morris Co Inc.

7 Boxes Tested Positive

Friends of the Earth and other members of the Genetically Engineered Food Alert coalition claim a 7-box sample of Taco Bell taco shells sold in a suburban Washington grocery store showed the presence of a Bt corn allowed only in animal feed.

The corn variety StarLink was developed by Aventis SA (AVEP.PA) as part of the company's offerings of Bt corn. Bt corn and cotton seeds are spliced with a naturally occurring plant pesticide known as bacillus thuringiensis, which is deadly for the destructive European corn borer.

Friends of the Earth said it gave the taco shell sample to an independent laboratory, which concluded that the sample contained at least 1 percent of StarLink corn.

Some 23 other food items, including breakfast cereals and frozen dinners, were also tested, but the results were inconclusive, said Larry Bohlen, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth. The green group plans to next test taco shells from Taco Bell restaurants for the unapproved variety of corn.

No illnesses have been reported from the taco shells, in part because consumers are unaware the product contains a potential allergen, the group said. An allergic reaction to food ranges from a upset stomach to severe breathing problems.

``This raises disturbing questions about the adequacy of the U.S. regulatory system for genetically modified foods,'' said Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a member of the anti-biotech coalition. ``The FDA has yet to require a single test for safety.''

Corn Variety May Be Allergen

The StarLink corn variety was approved in 1998 only for use in animal foods because it contains a protein known as Cry9C, according to Stephen Johnson, assistant EPA administrator for pesticides. Scientists have blocked allowing the protein into human food for fear it might be an allergen.

``In the case of Cry9C, it is not readily digested. That's why we have not licensed this for human food consumption and have sought outside scientific opinion on whether this is a potential allergen,'' Johnson said.

Other varieties of Bt corn do not contain this protein, and have been approved for human food.

Kraft Foods said it was trying to locate and test the same batch of taco shells analyzed by Friends of the Earth. Nearly 150,000 boxes of Taco Bell shells, each containing a dozen, were produced in the same batches as those tested.

``In the meantime, we're pulling samples at random from our own inventory and will test those to see if the protein is present,'' said Kraft spokesman Michael Mudd. ``If we find protein present in any samples, we'll take whatever action the FDA advises. If that means recall, we'll recall it.''

Kraft produces the taco shells at a plant in Mexico, which obtains corn flour from a Texas mill. That mill purchases non-biotech corn from farmers in a half-dozen states, he said.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization said more tests were needed to confirm the StarLink corn was in human food.

``These are very preliminary tests from a firm that has had in the past a lot of false positives,'' said BIO spokeswoman Lisa Dry, referring to Genetic ID, the lab that did the tests.

``The corn should not be in the human food chain,'' she added. ``If anyone has breached their agreements or obligations, we would take it very seriously.''

The FDA is due to release new regulations for genetically altered foods this month. The agency is widely expected to require food makers to have mandatory consultations -- instead of the current voluntary ones -- with FDA scientists before a biotech food can be marketed.

Several green groups have criticized the U.S. government for not requiring strict safety testing and labels on all biotech foods. Seed companies and agribusiness contend that gene-spliced corn, soybeans, tomatoes and other foods undergo years of tests and safety checks before being released.

In April, a National Academy of Sciences study cautiously endorsed the safety of biofoods, but urged the U.S. agencies that regulate them to do more to protect the environment and to monitor long-term health effects.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), September 18, 2000


Gawd! First they ditch the cute little chihuahua and those commercials. Then they introduce this crap into the food. And, to top it all off, their employees probably don't wash their hands!!!

It surely can't get worse. Unless ... I wonder just WHAT ever happened to that cute little chihuahua?

-- King of Spain (madrid@aol.cum), September 18, 2000.

Yo quiero taco dog.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), September 18, 2000.

Now don't start speculating on the little dog's fate..will surely get cin's panties twisted in a knot

-- shells be shells (whether they be corn or T@co.Bells), September 19, 2000.

I'm doin' alright me amigos. But yo quiero Taco Bell!

-- (, September 19, 2000.

Gaaawd!! I use those shells for my Tacos all the time! I was wondering why I seem to be growing a third nut.

-- (johnny@the.wad.rashad), September 20, 2000.

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