GM Corn Scandal Forces
Kellogg To Close Plant
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 said yesterday.
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 reasons."
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 supplies.
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 reviewed now.
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 on facts."
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 scientists.
European pharmaceutical giant Aventis SA , which engineered StarLink corn, has said 90 percent of the corn has been accounted for and was "tracking" the remainder.
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.
18:34 10-20-00 *****************
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 Friday.
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 laboratories.
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.
14:52 10-20-00 **************
EC questions if US biotech food regulations adequate
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 foods.
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 trade issues.
"Part of the basis on which U.S. genetically-modified products are exported to 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 crops.
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.
16:46 10-20-00
Press Release from Representative Dennis Kucinich Ohio-10th District
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 action.
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.
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