Tainted Taco Shells Recalled from Grocery Shelves

NORTHFIELD, Illinois, September 22, 2000 (ENS) - Kraft Foods today announced that it will recall all of its "Taco Bell Home Originals" brand taco shells from supermarket shelves. The voluntary recall was initiated after the company found that certain samples of the taco shells contained a variety of genetically engineered corn known as "StarLink," which has not been approved for human consumption.

"As soon as we learned that there might be an issue in the supply chain we purchased from, we have been guided by one priority - the safety of our products and the their compliance with all regulatory requirements," said Betsy Holden, president and CEO of Kraft Foods, a Philip Morris subsidiary. "Testing has now indicated the presence of 'StarLink' and we are immediately withdrawing all affected products."

Products sold at Taco Bell restaurants are in no way involved in this recall, Kraft officials said.

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Taco Bell taco shells like these have been recalled from store shelves. (Photo courtesy Kraft Foods)
The recall comes just days after Genetically Engineered Food Alert, a coalition of environmental, health and consumer groups, had demanded that the taco shells be pulled from grocery store shelves.

Genetically Engineered Food Alert announced earlier this week that Taco Bell taco shells purchased at a grocery store in suburban Washington, DC this summer had been found to contain Cry9C corn, a plant pesticide marketed under the brand name StarLink. Under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines, StarLink may only be used as animal feed, as it may not be safe for human consumption.

In a written statement, Genetically Modified Food Alert applauded Kraft for voluntarily recalling the tainted taco shells.

"Genetically Engineered Food Alert feels that the Kraft Company has acted responsibly in this instance to protect consumers from the possible heath effects related to StarLink genetically engineered corn," the group declared.

According to Genetically Engineered Food Alert, StarLink is a human allergen that can lead to skin rashes, nausea, respiratory problems, anaphylactic shock or death.

There have been no known reports of StarLink related illnesses stemming from the consumption of Taco Bell taco shells.

Kraft officials did not address the alleged health effects of consuming StarLink corn in announcing the recall. But the company did release a letter drafted by professor Steve Taylor, head of the Department of Food Safety and Technology at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

According to Taylor, it is "virtually impossible" for any consumer to have an existing allergy to StarLink corn, because the substance has never been a part of the human diet previously.

"In my opinion, there is virtually no risk associated with the ingestion of StarLink corn in this situation," Taylor wrote.

Still, Taylor acknowledged that there is a risk that StarLink corn could pose public health risks if consumer exposure to it becomes more extensive.

Kraft has advised consumers who purchased the products not to eat them. Consumers should return the products to the store where they were purchased for a full refund, the company announced.

In announcing the recall, Kraft also called for a mandatory review of all plant biotechnology advances by the appropriate government agencies before those advances enter the market. The company also called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to strengthen the requirements for environmental stewardship of plant biotechnology to enhance the integrity of the food supply chain.

Genetically Engineered Food Alert has called on the FDA to conduct pre-market safety testing of all genetically engineered food products. The group has also called for labeling of all genetically engineered foods.

According to the group, the Taco Bell case illustrates "how the FDA has failed to provide proper measures to protect consumers from the potential hazards of genetically engineered foods."

Consumers with questions about the products involved in Kraft's recall can find information on the company's Web site, http://www.kraftfoods.com/specialreport.

Consumers can also call the company toll-free at 800-433-9361 between the hours of 8 am and midnight, Eastern Standard Time.