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Kraft Recalled Genetically Modified Taco Shells

Wall Street on the Taco Bell Scandal

Even though this is from September 2000, bet you never saw or heard about it on mainstream media, glad Wall Street Journal did the story. We HARDLY EVER hear about the dangers of GM foods...

September 25, 2000

The Wall Street Journal
Kraft Taco Shell Puts Focus
On Biotechnology Oversight
By Scott Kilman and Sarah Lueck

Kraft Foods Inc., scrambling to recall taco shells made from a type of genetically modified corn unapproved for human consumption, is calling for tougher regulation of crop biotechnology.

The packaged-food giant's recommendations, while milder than anything pushed by the major anti-biotechnology groups, signals a widening breach between the food and biotechnology industries.

Kraft said Friday it is voluntarily recalling from U.S. supermarkets all taco shells in a line of Mexican food it sells under a license from Taco Bell, the fast-food chain.

The recall is the first in America of a genetically modified food. The taco shells in question are in products that generate about $50 million in annual sales for Kraft, which has total annual revenue of $27 billion. Kraft said consumers will get refunds for the products they return. A handful of American companies, fearful that the public might turn against the fledgling technology, already have banned certain genetically modified ingredients from their products. But the move by Kraft, a unit of Philip Morris Cos., New York, is the first time a major marketer has gone out of its way to call for stronger oversight of crop biotechnology.

Among other things, Kraft said it wants the government to stop approving the planting of genetically modified crops that aren't yet cleared for human consumption. Kraft said that laboratory tests done for it confirm a report by an anti-biotechnology coalition last week that the company's taco shells contain ingredients from a line of insect-resistant corn that is
supposed to be eaten only by livestock or processed into ethanol fuel.Aventis SA, the French pharmaceuticals giant, developed the corn, called StarLink. The plant uses a gene transplanted from a common soil microorganism, Bacillus thuringiensis, to make protein that is toxic to certain insects. Federal regulators have approved several lines of so-called Bt corn for use in food. But StarLink corn makes a unique toxin,called Cry9C, that the government has yet to confirm isn't a potential food allergen.

Federal authorities and Kraft said there isn't any evidence that consumers have harmed their health by eating the Kraft taco shells. Kraft is conducting the recall because under the law, the StarLink corn shouldn't be in food.

Some biotechnology executives are skeptical about Kraft's laboratory results, saying that the protein is hard to detect reliably. Indeed, one of Kraft's recommendations is that regulators begin to require that the inventor of a genetically modified crop have a rapid test available for detecting its presence in food.

The biotechnology industry, which is usually quick to refute calls for tougher oversight, is keeping a low profile this time. "Kraft's suggestions have merit and deserve to be taken seriously," said Val Giddings, a top official of trade group Biotechnology Industry Organization.

The Food and Drug Administration said it doesn't expect any more food recalls because of StarLink. But food-industry officials say the scope of the problem is far from clear because the reason for the mix-up isn't yet known.

The spotlight is on a corn-flour mill in Plainview, Texas. One of the biggest of its kind, the mill produced the main ingredient used to make Kraft's taco shells, and is a supplier to many Mexican-food brands. The mill is owned by Azteca Milling, a partnership between Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. of Decatur, Ill., and Gruma SA of Mexico.

Dan Lynn, president of Azteca Milling, said the Plainview facility has stopped shipping yellow corn flour so that it can screen its inventory forthe StarLink protein. "We're trying hard to figure this out," he said. None of the Plainview mill's flour should contain any genetically modified corn, let alone StarLink, according to Mr. Lynn. The corn hybrids that the mill contracts with neighboring farmers to grow are all conventional varieties.

Mr. Lynn wouldn't identify the companies that use corn flour produced by the mill to make everything from taco shells and tortillas to extruded snack foods.

However, the Taco Bell restaurant unit of Tricon Global Restaurants Inc. said it is testing its taco shells because some of them are made with corn flour from the Plainview mill. While the tests are under way, the restaurant chain has told the makers of its taco shells, such as ConAgra Inc. and the Sabritas unit of PepsiCo Inc., to get their corn flour from outside Texas. Taco Bell said it also is replacing all the taco shells in its restaurants.

The FDA and Environmental Protection Agency are continuing to investigate how the unapproved corn got into Kraft taco shells. One theory is that the wind might have blown pollen from a field of StarLink corn into fields of corn being grown for Azteca.

Garst Seed Co., a U.S. unit of European seed concern Advanta BV, confirmed that it has sold StarLink seed to a few farmers in the region that corn is grown for the Plainview mill. The EPA requires farmers to plant StarLink seed at least 660 feet from other cornfields in order to prevent crosspollination. Alan Hawkins, Garst director of research, said corn pollen is so heavy and sticky that it is unlikely any StarLink pollen made it into another field.


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