Taco Bell Scandal Continues--GE Seed Co. Suspends
Sales of StarLink Corn

Aventis halts sale of corn seeds linked
to Kraft recall

USA : September 27, 2000

CHICAGO - The U.S. unit of European pharmaceuticals
giant Aventis SA yesterday halted the sale of its
gene-altered corn seed variety not approved for human
consumption in the latest fallout from Kraft Foods
nationwide recall of taco shells made from the corn.

Life science company Aventis Cropscience said it has
ordered distributors to stop the sale of Starlink corn seeds to
ensure they do not enter the food chain.

The move comes on the heel of a voluntary recall by Kraft
Foods, the biggest U.S. food manufacturer and unit of Philip
Morris Cos , of Taco Bell Home Originals taco shells
because some samples contained Starlink corn.

It was the first time a U.S. food product containing
genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) not approved for
human consumption has been pulled back.

The United States is the world's largest producer of
genetically modified (GM) crops, which are spliced with
genes to make them resistant to pesticide and deadly to
pests, in a GM food industry worth about $4 billion a year.

Gene-modified crops have prompted a storm of protest in
Europe but until the Kraft recall U.S. food companies had
been largely insulated from the controversy.

Tests performed by an independent laboratory found, in
certain samples, the presence of Starlink corn that Kraft had
not specified for the taco shells and which is not approved
for use in food because of concerns it might be an allergen.

All other Bt corn hybrids grown and sold in the United States
have governmental approval for both food and feed use, the
National Corn Growers Association said.

Bt corn is a type of GMO crop that, through the addition of
the natural Bt soil bacterium, has a built-in defence against
the European corn borer, an insect that has caused millions
of dollars in crop losses over the years.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said this week they
were jointly investigating allegations by an anti-biotech
coalition that a variety of unapproved genetically spliced
corn had slipped into Taco Bell shels sold in a Maryland
grocery store.

"Sales will not resume until the company receives a food
clearance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,"
Aventis said in a statement.

Aventis spokesman Rick Rountree said Starlink corn hybrid
seeds were planted in less than 10,000 acres when
introduced in 1998. Plantings have grown to 315,000 acres
this year but still constitute less than one percent of total
corn seedings.

He said the company was taking several measures to ensure
that corn grown from Starlink seeds do not end up in food
channels, but declined to say if it would involve price
incentives for farmers to store them separately.

Rountree said that it was unlikely that farmers had
purchased seeds for plantings next year, but added that
Aventis distributors would take back seeds that were sold.

Lynn Jensen, president of the National Corn Growers
Association, welcomed the move by Aventis to stop the sale
of Starlink. "It's a very appropriate action," he said.

Jensen said the taco shell recall highlighted the need to
segregate Starlink corn from other varieties in the grain
handling process to ensure it does not enter the food chain.

"A lot of farmers know what is going on, but in the heat of
harvest they can forget," he added. "There is going to be
some sort of financial incentive to get farmers to segregate."

Story by K.T. Arasu


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