PANNA: Illegal GE Corn Found in More Taco Shells


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Illegal GE Corn Found in More Taco Shells
October 12, 2000

Genetically Engineered Food Alert, a coalition of health, consumer and environmental groups, announced that samples of Safeway brand taco shells were found to contain genetically engineered Starlink corn. The corn, not approved for direct human consumption, is the same contaminant discovered by Genetically Engineered Food Alert in Taco Bell brand taco shells recalled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Kraft Company in September 2000.

Safeway responded by pulling the taco shells from their shelves in the more than 1600 Safeway and Vons stores nationwide.

Starlink, a corn that contains a genetically engineered plant pesticide and marketed by the biotechnology company Aventis, is currently approved only for animal consumption by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A protein (Cry9C) found in the corn was found to be heat stable and resistant to stomach acids and enzymes, indicating a potential allergen. Possible health effects of food allergens range from nausea to anaphylactic shock, but are not currently known due to lack of adequate testing by government and industry.

Genetically Engineered Food Alert condemned the presence, as indicated by the test results, of the genetically engineered ingredient and called the second contamination incident evidence of FDA's failure to provide adequate oversight of food biotechnology corporations and food producers.


"The recall of Taco Bell taco shells distributed by Kraft and the recent finding of Starlink corn in Safeway products underscores the need for stronger government regulation over genetically engineered foods," said Ronnie Cummins, Director of Organic Consumers Association. "The message from American consumers is clear. We want Safeway and America's largest food corporations to follow the lead of their European counterparts and remove all genetically engineered ingredients from their brand name products."

While these genetically engineered ingredients continue to enter the market, the FDA refuses to mandate pre-market safety testing of genetically engineered ingredients or labeling so that consumers know which foods contain them. The coalition has called on the FDA to test for the presence of Cry9C corn in all products containing non-organic yellow corn #2, the class of corn to which Cry9C belongs. The coalition also called on the FDA to conduct a thorough investigation into numerous reports of illness made to FDA and alleged to have been caused by consumption of contaminated taco shells.

FDA officially recalled the Taco Bell taco shells on October 2, 2000, after the Kraft Company voluntarily recalled the product from grocery store shells. The Agency declared a class II recall, defined as "a situation in which the use of, or exposure to, a violative product may cause temporary or medically reversible adverse health effects." Genetically Engineered Food Alert called on the FDA to take the same action on the Safeway brand taco shells.

Aventis, under the direction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has agreed to purchase the Starlink crops that are currently being grown and harvested in the United States, an undertaking estimated to cost the company from US$90 to $100 million, according to USDA. Aventis has also announced that sales of Starlink corn hybrids for 2001 had been halted.

An estimated 45 million bushels of Starlink corn were grown this year by U.S. farmers in more than 20 states. Reports are starting to surface, however, that some farmers were not told to segregate Starlink to ensure that it did not enter the human food chain. A USDA spokesperson stated that the USDA will not buy Starlink corn that has been blended in bins with other varieties.

Genetically Engineered Food Alert founding members include: Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, National Environmental Trust, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network North America, and the State Public Interest Research Groups.

Background material available on the Web

The recall letters to Safeway, Taco Bell and Philip Morris, the formal petition to the FDA, test results, and fact sheets on genetically engineered Cry9C corn, the regulatory history of Cry9C, and the laboratory testing protocol are located on the Genetically Engineered Food Alert Web site at
http://www.gefoodalert.org/news/news.cfm?news_id=2581.

Sources: "Starlink Bites the Dust," Cropchoice.com, September 26, 2000. "U.S. grain industry meets at USDA," AgWeb.com, October 6, 2000. "Starlink Growers Get Premiums; Questions Still to Answer," Progressive Farmer, October 20, 2000. GE Food Alert press release, October 12, 2000. Reuters, October 12, 2000.


Contact: PANNA.

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