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Corn Woes Prompt Kellogg to Shut Down Plant
By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday , October 21, 2000 ; Page A02
The Kellogg Co. has been forced to shut down production at one plant because
the company could not find corn guaranteed to be free of a genetically
modified grain approved only for animal consumption, food industry sources
The shutdown was the most visible evidence of the problems that have been
confronting the U.S. food industry since officials discovered that the
genetically engineered corn had been widely distributed throughout the
country, industry officials said.
Kellogg officials would not confirm the shutdown. Spokeswoman Chris Ervin
said the company-- which produces Frosted Flakes and Special K cereals along
with other products-- "doesn't discuss production schedules for competitive
But two sources familiar with the situation, who asked not to be named, said
the food giant, based in Battle Creek, Mich., had stopped production at the
plant in midweek, and one said it remains closed.
A major cause of the disruption is that big grain suppliers are unable to
certify that their corn is not "adulterated" with the genetically modified
corn, known as StarLink, which was apparently mixed with non-engineered corn
in multiple sites around the country in violation of federal regulations.
"What we are hearing is a significant degree of concern about whether mills
or food processors are able to provide a guarantee of noncontamination, or
noncomingling with StarLink," a senior official with the Environmental
Protection Agency, who asked not to be named, said yesterday. "Because those
guarantees are not being given, some corn is not being sold."
The engineered corn was not approved for human consumption because of
concerns that it could trigger dangerous allergic reactions. Federal
officials stressed that the corn does not pose an immediate health hazard.
But officials are nonetheless trying to locate and withdraw the corn
Aventis CropScience, which makes the corn, has agreed to buy back at a
premium as much of this year's crop as possible. Last week, company
officials reported that 9 million bushels of the corn--about 12 percent of
the crop--had already left farms after being harvested in recent weeks, and
that some had gotten into the human food supply. Aventis is trying to
identify the grain elevators and mills that may have received the corn.
Concern that StarLink had made it into the food supply began with a report
from a consortium of opponents of engineered food, known as Genetically
Engineered Food Alert, that it had found the corn in Taco Bell taco shells.
That finding was confirmed by the Food and Drug Administration, and several
brands of taco shells were recalled as a result.
The FDA is testing a variety of other corn products. Officials said
yesterday that StarLink has been found only in taco shells so far.
"To the extent there have been supply slowdowns, we think that reflects the
industry being responsible, and taking the situation very seriously," said
Agriculture Department spokesman Andy Solomon.
Government officials said the StarLink problems have begun to prevent
exporters from fulfilling contracts with companies overseas, which often
demand that products be guaranteed to be free of engineered foods.
The White House has been in regular contact with officials from the four
federal agencies involved in overseeing genetically engineered food. Their
latest conference call took place yesterday, a spokesman said, and they
addressed an array of issues, from the extent to which the substance is
traceable and how far it has infiltrated the food supply to the potential
impact on exports. The administration is hoping to hold a meeting on Monday
so agency officials can brief representatives from the European Union on the
steps being taken to address the problem, officials said.
One possible solution to the StarLink problem is to, in effect, approve for
human consumption the StarLink now in the food chain if it falls below a
certain level. Because an application for human consumption was before
regulators when the problems began, officials said any new scientific data
presented to support claims that the corn is safe for people might be
Some believe the food industry is being overly cautious about StarLink. But
Gene Grabowski, spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, said the
industry has to take consumer sensitivities into account.
"We believe food companies are taking responsible steps, but they should not
be interpreted as meaning the food industry believes there is harm to public
safety being done, because there is not," he said. "Still, it's important
that we slow down here a bit and not rush to conclusions that aren't based
Tyson stops buying StarLink gene-altered corn
By K.T. Arasu
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Tyson Foods Inc. , the world's largest poultry producer,
said on Friday it has stopped feeding its chickens with a gene-altered corn
approved for use only as animal feed but turned up in taco shells and flour.
The Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson is believed to be the first food company
to stop the use of StarLink corn as an animal feed, as concerns emerged that
the corn has spread through the U.S. food chain.
"Tyson has elected to stop acquiring corn that we know is StarLink corn,"
Tyson spokesman Ed Nicholson told Reuters.
He said the company did not plan to carry out independent testing but will
leave to its suppliers to ensure corn it purchases is free of StarLink.
"This is basically a precautionary move to avoid confusion among consumers,
although to my understanding, there has been no links of the protein in
StarLink transferring to products."
The protein, known as Cry9C and not found in other crops that are
genetically modified, is safe for animals but may trigger allergic reactions
in humans, including fever, rashes or diarrhea, according to government
European pharmaceutical giant Aventis SA , which engineered StarLink corn,
has said 90 percent of the corn has been accounted for and was "tracking"
But sources close to the company and in the industry said that some 9
million bushels of StarLink corn is unaccounted for.
Nicholson said Tyson had stopped buying StarLink corn about a month ago,
when news of the corn entering the food chain and turning up in taco shells
was first made public.
The episode began late last month when the largest food manufacturer in the
United States, Kraft Foods, a unit of Philip Morris Cos. Inc., recalled Taco
Bell brand taco shells because they contained StarLink corn.
On Tuesday, ConAgra Foods Inc., the country's second-largest food
manufacturer, said it had suspended milling operations at its corn
processing plant in Kansas while it tests for StarLink corn.
Azteca Milling, a distributor to Mission Foods and other food makers, said
it stopped shipping and milling yellow corn on Sept. 19. Azteca and Mission
also voluntarily recalled some yellow corn products because they could
contain StarLink. The two companies are units of Texas food producer Gruma
Corp., a subsidiary of Mexican food group Gruma .
Aventis has since agreed to cancel its license to sell the StarLink corn
after government officials said the firm was responsible for ensuring
farmers properly segregate the corn.
The company has been buying back StarLink corn, paying farmers who planted
the variety 25 cents more than the market rate to channel the grain solely
as animal feed.
Nicholson said Tyson might have bought StarLink corn before the Kraft recall
of taco shells, but added that "it will be difficult to say because it was
not identified then".
"It will be virtually impossible to say that none of it (StarLink) will end
up in our feed because our mills are not testing at this point," he added.
He said Tyson buys about 6.3 million bushels of corn each week.
Cargill has StarLink corn problem under control - CEO
By Carey Gillam
MANHATTAN, Kan. (Reuters) - Agricultural giant Cargill Inc. found an
unapproved variety of biotech corn in some of its food grain supplies
recently, but the company has the problem under control, its chairman said
The genetically engineered variety of corn known as StarLink has been
approved only for animal feed but has made its way into the human food
supply chain, setting off a costly and widespread food industry containment
and recall effort.
Chairman and Chief Executive Warren Staley said Cargill, like other
agricultural companies caught up in the controversy, may have inadvertently
processed StarLink corn for human food uses before implementing new testing
procedures to identify and reject the grain at its food grain corn
processing facilities. The testing technology became available to the
industry only in recent weeks, he said.
"We went facility by facility and put in place a protocol for testing for
StarLink," Staley told Reuters. "We don't feel it's our fault, and we think
we're being responsible. We didn't know what we were getting."
The industry estimates that millions of bushels of the corn have already
made their way into the human food chain. In recent weeks, taco shells,
tortillas and corn chips have been recalled from across the United States
because of possible contamination.
Government officials do not think the corn poses serious health risks, but
the StarLink variety, which is designed to be toxic to certain insects, may
trigger allergic reactions in some people.
Staley said he receives daily reports on StarLink testing results at Cargill
facilities, and the company is working with government officials and others
in the food supply chain to try to contain the situation. The effort is
costly and one that Staley finds frustrating, he said.
"I hope this is a huge lesson for everybody in the industry," he said.
Staley said he thought it would be possible to segregate genetically
modified grain from other grain, but all players in the industry would need
to act responsibly. Irresponsible behavior by a few is to blame for the
current mess, he said.
"There is a process of protocols to be followed," Staley said.
"Unfortunately people didn't handle things correctly."
Cargill is not the only company affected. Earlier this week, ConAgra Foods
Inc., another of the nation's biggest food companies, announced it was
halting production at its Kansas corn processing plant while it tested for
the presence of StarLink corn.
Staley emphasized that fears of the corn's impact on human health were
minimal, and said his concern was to ensure that proper procedures for
handling bioengineered grain were followed.
"This is not a health issue, this is a compliance issue," he said.
The StarLink corn seed was developed by Aventis CropScience, the U.S. unit
of Aventis SA, which recently agreed to cancel its license to sell the corn
after government officials said Aventis was responsible for ensuring that
farmers properly segregate the corn.
Richard Calhoun, vice president for Cargill's North American Grain and
Oilseeds unit, said the marketplace is starting to pay more for non-StarLink
corn, and many customers are concerned.
"It is a significant issue," Calhoun said.
Staley and Calhoun were in Manhattan, Kansas, on Friday for the formal
announcement of a $1 million gift from Cargill to Kansas State University.
The money is to assist in the development of a new Grain Science Center,
which will include bioprocessing facilities and high-tech research
Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Cargill is an international marketer, processor
and distributor of agricultural, food, financial and industrial products and
services. It posted $48 billion in revenues in the 1999-2000 fiscal year.
WASHINGTON, Oct 20 (Reuters) - The European Commission on Friday expressed
concern about whether U.S. regulations are adequate to stop bioengineered
grains from getting into exports to nations concerned about gene-spliced
John Richardson, deputy chief of the EC delegation in Washington, said there
were fresh questions about American regulations following the recent U.S.
recall of taco shells and flour containing a variety of biotech corn which
had not been approved for human consumption.
The EC is concerned whether any U.S. foods exported to Europe contain the
same type of yellow corn, known to farmers by its brandname StarLink.
Britain, France, Italy and more than two dozen other nations around the
world prohibit the sale of foods containing biotech ingredients unless they
are clearly labelled for consumers. American green groups have pushed for
similar regulations in the United States, saying not enough is known yet
about the long-term effects of gene-spliced foods.
U.S. agribusiness and industry groups oppose tighter regulations, contending
that a longstanding U.S. government policy recognizes bioengineered foods as
safe and no different from conventional ones.
StarLink, made by Aventis SA, was approved by U.S. regulators for animal
feed only and not for human consumption because of government scientists'
unresolved questions about whether it might be an allergen for some people.
The EC was to hold talks later on Friday with U.S. government officials
about the StarLink contamination, Richardson told a briefing on a variety of
"Part of the basis on which U.S. genetically-modified products are exported
to Europe...is the understanding the United States has the ability to
distinguish between non-approved products and approved products," he said.
"What this whole discussion throws up is whether, in fact, the U.S. has that
ability (and) whether the U.S. system is working," he added.
Last week, a senior Clinton administration official said the United States
was making headway against European resistance to genetically modified
Alan Larson, a State Department undersecretary for business and agriculture,
told an Iowa food conference that he believed there was a growing unease in
Europe with green groups that have lobbied for strict biotech regulations.
The United States is the world's biggest producer of gene-altered soybeans,
corn, squash and other crops. American exports of grain to Europe have
dropped because of European consumers' resistance to biotech foods.
Press Release from Representative Dennis Kucinich
Thursday, October 19, 2000 (202) 225-5871
Rep. Kucinich announces Legislation Granting FDA Food Embargo Authority:
Unapproved GE Corn Fiasco Indicates Need for Better Govít Intervention
Washington, D.C. -- Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Cleveland) announced a
legislative effort to eliminate a major food safety loophole. The
legislation Kucinich will introduce will grant FDA authority to quickly
ìembargoîadulterated food products giving Americans immediate protection.
FDA would be better equipped to handle the StarLink corn fiasco which has
resulted in widespread contamination of the bulk corn commodity market. FDAí
s current authority allows the seizure of adulterated foods only after a
lengthy court process, yet they have no authority to take immediate steps to
protect the American public.
ìIf the federal government can protect the American consumer by forcing a
massive recall of Firestone tires, then the federal government should have
the ability to force a recall of contaminated food to ensure food safety,î
said Representative Kucinich. ìThe genetically engineered genie is out of
the bottle and contaminating our food supply. Now is the time for our
federal regulators to have the ability to clean up the mess this
out-of-control genie has created.î
The legislation will:
… require the FDA to ìembargoî adulterated food (a temporary seizure)
until a court determines if FDA can permanently seize the product. Our food
safety regulators must be able to protect the American public with immediate
… require the FDA to disclose all necessary information without regard to
confidentially, if such disclosure is necessary to embargo, seize, or recall
any adulterated food. The American consumer must be assured that an
embargoed, seized, or recalled adulterated food cannot be hidden behind
claims of proprietary information.
… require registration of grocery stores with the FDA to expedite recalls,
embargos and seizures.