Genetically Engineered Food Alert, a coalition of health, consumer and environmental groups, today demanded that taco shells marketed using the Taco Bell name be immediately removed from grocery store shelves across the country. In independent testing, a sample of the taco shells was found to contain a form of genetically engineered corn not approved for direct human consumption.

Test results obtained by Genetically Engineered Food Alert member group Friends of the Earth from an independent laboratory indicate the presence of Cry9C corn, a variety of genetically engineered corn not approved for direct human consumption, in Taco Bell taco shells sold at grocery stores. Cry9C, a plant pesticide marketed by biotechnology company Aventis under the name of StarLink(TM), is currently deemed fit only for animal consumption by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Aventis has applied for an exemption to this restriction even though the EPA has warned that Aventis' data indicate "that Cry9C exhibits some characteristics of known allergens." Cry9C was found to be heat stabile and resistant to stomach acids and enzymes, indicating that it could be a potential allergen. Possible health effects of this category of allergen include nausea and anaphylactic shock, but are not currently known due to a lack of adequate testing by government and industry.

"According to the tests, Taco Bell and Philip Morris have used a genetically engineered ingredient that could put the health of their customers at risk," said Larry Bohlen, Health and Environment Programs Director at Friends of the Earth. The taco shells tested were distributed by Kraft, a subsidiary of Philip Morris, under the name Taco Bell. "Consumers need to know whether this is just the tip of the iceberg."

Friends of the Earth plans to submit taco shells from Taco Bell restaurants for testing.

RECALL DEMANDED

A lawyer for Genetically Engineered Food Alert filed a letter with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on behalf of the coalition calling upon the Agency to recall the adulterated taco shells, as permitted under law, if the manufacturer does not implement a voluntary recall.

"This is a legal violation and FDA clearly has the authority to seize the product if Taco Bell and Philip Morris do not recall it," said Joseph Mendelson, Center for Food Safety legal director.

The coalition also sent letters to David Novak, CEO of TRICON Global Restaurants (the parent company of Taco Bell) and Philip Morris CEO Geoffrey Bible requesting that they voluntarily remove all Taco Bell taco shells from supermarkets.

TESTING OF ALL CORN PRODUCTS REQUESTED

The coalition also requested that the FDA move swiftly to test for the presence of Cry9C corn in all products containing non-organic yellow corn #2, the grade of corn to which Cry9C belongs. According to the American Corn Growers Association, only nine percent of the conventional corn crop was segregated from genetically engineered corn in the 1999. Products made with yellow corn #2 may include many varieties of tortillas, breakfast cereals, corn chips, frozen TV dinners such as enchiladas, and corn meal.

FAILURE OF FDA OVERSIGHT OF GE FOODS CITED

Members of the Genetically Engineered Food Alert condemned the presence of the genetically engineered ingredient on grocery store shelves, as indicated by the test results, as a failure of the FDA to provide adequate oversight of food biotechnology corporations and food producers. The FDA is empowered by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to protect the public against genetically engineered plant pesticides, such as the particular kind of corn containing Cry9C, that are not approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"This discovery just shows that genetically engineered ingredients should not be on the grocery store shelves when so poorly regulated by FDA," said Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-10th OH). "It concerns me and should concern American consumers that this is a glimpse of things to come as genetically engineered products are rushed to store shelves without real mandatory safety testing and labeling programs in place."

ABOUT THE GE FOOD ALERT CAMPAIGN AND GEFoodAlert.org

Genetically Engineered Food Alert founding members include: Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, National Environmental Trust, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network North America, and the State Public Interest Research Groups.

Genetically Engineered Food Alert supports the removal of genetically engineered ingredients from grocery store shelves unless they are adequately safety tested and labeled. The campaign provides web-based opportunities for individuals to express concern about genetically engineered food and fact sheets on health, environmental and economic information about genetically engineered food. The campaign is endorsed by more than 250 scientists, religious leaders, doctors, chefs, environmental and health leaders, as well as farm groups.

BACKGROUND MATERIAL AVAILABLE ON WEB

The recall letters to Taco Bell and Philip Morris, the formal petition to the FDA, test results, as well as fact sheets on genetically engineered Cry9C corn, the regulatory history of Cry9C, and on the laboratory testing protocol are located on the Genetically Engineered Food Alert website at www.gefoodalert.org/recall