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Taco Bell taco shells sold in grocery stores contain banned corn -- report

Taco Bell taco shells sold in grocery stores contain banned corn -- report

In this story:

'Unlawful' for it to be in human food

Shells made in Mexico


RELATED STORIES, SITES Downward pointing arrow


WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- A form of biotech corn not allowed in food because of concerns it could trigger allergies has been detected in Taco Bell taco shells sold in grocery stores, the Washington Post reported Monday.

The Food and Drug Administration has already begun an investigation, the paper said.

The Washington Post said a report prepared by a coalition of biotech critics had found the type of corn, produced by Aventis Corp. and called StarLink, in human food products, although it was approved by federal authorities in 1998 only as animal feed.

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Because the corn has been genetically modified in a way that makes it more difficult to break down in the human gut, the agencies have refused to approve it for human use.

Federal officials called the possibility that the modified corn had been made it into food products "very serious" if confirmed by further testing, the Post reported.

"If there has been a violation of our licensing process, then we would have a very great concern," the paper quoted Stephen Johnson, an assistant administrator for pesticides at the Environmental Protection Agency, as saying.

"Likewise, we would want to make sure we are completely protecting the public health," he said.

'Unlawful' for it to be in human food

FDA officials called the possible presence of StarLink corn in human food "unlawful," the Post reported.

While most of the U.S. political, scientific and commercial establishment has embraced biotechnology as safe and useful, activists continue to raise questions about its use and hope to inspire the kind of widespread backlash present in Europe.

The group that had the taco shells tested -- the Genetically Engineered Food Alert -- has asked the FDA to recall the products immediately, according to the Post article.

"This corn is absolutely not supposed to be in our food, but an independent lab found it there anyway," Larry Bohlen of Friends of the Earth, a member of the coalition, told the paper. "This shows a major regulatory failure and raises some real human health concerns."

The group said this first finding was potentially "the tip of an iceberg" and the genetically modified corn could be in many other products as well. Samples of taco shells from Taco Bell restaurants will be tested soon, group members said.

Shells made in Mexico

The taco shells tested were manufactured in Mexico for Taco Bell and were distributed by Kraft Foods Inc. Taco Bell is owned by Tricon Global Restaurants Inc., and Kraft is a unit of Philip Morris Cos..

The Post quoted Michael Mudd, Kraft's vice president for corporate affairs, as saying that the corn was bought by a Texas miller from farmers in six states and that the miller had ordered a conventional form of corn.

"This is a serious issue, and Kraft is doing everything we can to confirm whether or not this material is present in the product," he said. "If it is confirmed, we will immediately take, in consultation with the FDA, all appropriate steps."

Biotech industry officials questioned the testing techniques of Genetic Id, the Iowa company that concluded that unapproved corn was in the taco shells.

At least once before, the company came to conclusions about the presence of genetically modified materials that were later proved inaccurate, according to the Post.

The StarLink corn is genetically modified to contain the plant pesticide Bacillus thuringienis, or Bt, which kills the destructive European corn borer. While there are many varieties of Bt corn now, StarLink is the only one that contains the Cry9C protein, which federal officials have concluded might cause an allergic reaction in some people.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



RELATED STORIES:
Study calls for more regulation, not labeling, of biotech crops
The good, the bad and the genetically engineered

RELATED SITES:
U.S. Food and Drug Administration -- Bioengineered Foods
Genetically Engineered Food Alert

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