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StarLink Recall Climb to 300 Different Items

300 taco, chip products recalled for bio-corn link --FDA
By Julie Vorman

WASHINGTON, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Nearly 300 kinds of taco shells, tortillas,
chips and tostadas were recalled from U.S. grocery stores and restaurants
because of suspected contamination with a biotech corn not approved for
human consumption, the Food and Drug Administration said on Wednesday.

In the most detailed list published to date, the FDA identified all the
foods recalled by Mission Foods, a unit of Mexican company Gruma, which has
been hit hard by the discovery of StarLink corn in its food products.

The company makes a variety of foods containing corn flour that are sold
under American grocery store brands, as well as to restaurants. Mission
initiated a voluntary recall on Oct. 13, but did not make public at that
time all the names of the products recalled.

The FDA said the recalled taco shells, tortillas and chips included those
served at restaurants such as Applebee's, Wendy's, Del Taco, Casa Solana and
La Cantina.

The list of Mission's recalled products also included many grocery store
private label brands. They are Best Buy, Brookshires, Kroger Co., Food Lion,
Fred Meyer, Kash-n-Karry, Rich Food, Shurfine, IGA, Albertson's Inc, Safeway
Inc., Vons, Brookshire's, Bueno Comida, Food City, Sack'n Save, and Wal-Mart
Stores Inc.

Environmental activists who oppose biotech foods said they were surprised at
how many Mission foods were recalled.

"We had no idea of the scope of this," said Matt Rand, a spokesman for the
Genetically Engineered Food Alert, a coalition of green groups. "This shows
how widespread the StarLink problem is."

Since StarLink was detected in human food six weeks ago, the gene-spliced
variety of yellow corn has unleashed turmoil in the U.S. food industry,
triggered widespread testing, and strained relations with big corn importers
such as Japan.

EPA REVIEW UNDERWAY

StarLink was approved in 1998 by the Environmental Protection Agency for use
only in animal feed because of concerns about the corn causing allergic
reactions in some people.

EPA officials this week launched a month-long review of StarLink scientific
data to decide whether to grant temporary approval to it until all the
contaminated corn is used up. The EPA regulates StarLink because it is
genetically engineered to act as a pesticide to protect young corn plants.

The food industry and StarLink maker Aventis SA contend that that new
scientific data shows there is no health risk from the corn.

The FDA list of recalled foods was published as part of the agency's
routine, weekly enforcement report. The agency published a similar list last
month outlining less than a half-dozen taco products recalled by Kraft Foods
for the same reason.

Some of the grocery stores which purchased Mission taco products issued
their own notices during the past two weeks to alert consumers that
store-label products had been recalled.

StarLink was grown on only about one percent of U.S. corn fields this year,
but experts say the variety was accidentally commingled with other corn by
farmers and grain elevators.

Last week the government said it had located about 90 percent of this year's
crop, but about 1.2 million bushels of StarLink had yet to be accounted for.
***************************************************************

FDA Lists More Than 300 Food Products in Biotech Corn Recall

Washington, Nov. 1 (Bloomberg) -- More than 300 tortilla, taco shell and
taco chip products that may contain traces of genetically engineered corn
are included in a recall by Gruma SA's Mission Foods, a U.S. government
agency said.

Irving, Texas-based Mission, the largest tortilla maker in the U.S.,
announced the recall Oct. 13. The company said it was withdrawing the
products, sold in U.S. supermarkets and restaurants, because they may
include Aventis SA's StarLink corn. The ingredient is genetically engineered
and only approved for animal feed because it may cause allergic reactions in
humans.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration enforcement report is the full list of
recalled products made by Mission. The foods were sold under the names of
supermarkets including some owned by Albertson's Inc., Kroger Co., Food Lion
Inc. and Safeway Inc. The Mission products were also sold by Applebees
International Inc.'s and Wendy's International Inc.'s restaurant chains.

``I was amazed by the size of (the list) and I'm obviously very concerned,''
said Matt Rand, co-coordinator of the Genetically Engineered Food Alert, a
group of activists opposed to biotechnology foods.

The list, part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration enforcement report,
is now available on its Web site, and includes every yellow-corn product
made by Mission.

Peter Pitts, a spokesman for Mission Foods, said the company had ceased
using yellow corn and is only making its products with white corn, which is
not genetically engineered, to avoid mixing its food products with StarLink.
Mission has sent 200 of its sales people out to monitor the recall at
restaurants and supermarkets, he said.

Voluntary Recall

FDA spokesman Brad Stone said the food recall is still considered voluntary.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency
also regulate genetically engineered crops.

``We're monitoring the entire situation along with other federal agencies,''
Stone said. He said the agency didn't issue a press release on the list
because the recall had already been announced.

Rand said it was ``irresponsible'' of the FDA to not issue a press release
on the recall list. The entire StarLink issue gives credence to the idea of
imposing stricter regulations on bio- engineered foods, he said.

The StarLink corn is also creating problems with U.S. exports of corn to
Japan. Government officials in Japan are pressing the U.S. to ensure corn
exports are free of StarLink. Japan is the biggest importer of U.S. corn,
receiving about 15 million tons a year.

Aventis has said it would stop making the StarLink corn.

Nov/01/2000 20:04 ET

***************************************************************

Amount of corn mixed with StarLink hard to pin down

By Julie Ingwersen

CHICAGO, Nov 1 (Reuters) - As much as half of the corn stored in Iowa, the
top U.S. producer, may contain at least trace amounts of StarLink, a
bioengineered variety not approved for human food, an Iowa State University
professor said.

"It's possible," said ISU's Charles Hurburgh. "It is quite likely traces
will show up nearly everywhere in Iowa."

Iowa is projected to produce about 1.8 billion bushels of corn this year on
12 million acres (five million hectares).

StarLink was grown on nearly 135,000 of those acres, the most of any state,
according to a paper produced by Hurburgh, several colleagues and a staff
member from the Iowa attorney general's office.

StarLink producer Aventis SA says the variety was grown on 350,000 acres
nationwide in 2000. It was also planted on 250,000 acres in 1999 and 10,000
acres in 1998, the year it was approved in the United States.

Although StarLink acreage only comprised about one percent of Iowa's total
this year, the paper's authors say some of the harvested corn was mixed with
non-StarLink varieties on farms or at grain elevators, contaminating much
larger volumes.

Neil Harl, an agricultural economist at ISU, said some elevator operators
who did not realise StarLink had to be kept separate from other corn dumped
the grain into their big storage facilities. A similar process took place on
individual farms.

"I know one farmer that had 3,000 bushels of StarLink, and didn't realise it
was so sensitive," Harl said. "He dumped it into the 60,000-bushel bin, so
his StarLink went from 3,000 bushels to 60,000 bushels in one fell swoop
like that."

Farmers and handlers normally do not give a lot of thought to mixing grain.
That's the way the nation's grain handling system works, Hurburgh said.

"We've built a system with the lowest costs in the world around (the idea
of) having generic commodities that are totally interchangeable," he said.
"Typically, people don't pay attention to the particular origin of a
commodity."

The new wave of genetically modified crops introduced during the last few
years poses a challenge to that mentality. StarLink is a special case
because it was never approved for use as human food.

Last week, Aventis told U.S. regulators that at most, about 12 percent of
this year's StarLink crop had been commingled into human food products.

Said an Aventis CropScience spokeswoman on Wednesday, "Nearly 90 percent (of
the 2000 crop) has been channelled under USDA supervision to approved uses."

But Harl said it would be difficult to know how much of the total corn
supply was contaminated with StarLink.

"Those who say they're still looking for 10 percent of the crop, I don't
think they have much of an idea as to how much may ultimately be out there,
because of the commingling problem and because of the pollen drift," he
said.

"We can at least estimate the pollen drift," he said, noting that StarLink's
registration calls for 660-foot (200-metre) buffer zones surrounding planted
areas.

"But it's very difficult to calculate what the commingling might be."

The total could depend in part on how careful farmers and handlers were with
the 1999 and 1998 StarLink crops. Concern over StarLink corn erupted in
September after it was found in taco shells, but no such controversy existed
when the previous crops were harvested and marketed.

Some of the overall U.S. corn crop typically goes unused each year and is
carried over into the following marketing year. The United States had more
than 1.7 billion bushels left over from last season when the current
marketing year began, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

22:39 11-01-00

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