Kraft Food, a packaging unit of Philip Morris, has recently widened the gap between the scientific and food industries by announcing that there should be a tougher regulation of crop biotechnology. The comments are relatively mild compared to any of the proposals put forward by major anti-biotech groups, but this is the first time that any food industry giant has demanded a reorganisation of GM crop monitoring.
The announcement follows hard after the recent embarrassment that left Kraft recalling products in a Mexican food line from US supermarkets. The items are worth an estimated US$50m in annual sales and sold under licence from the fastfood chain Taco Bell.
The voluntary recall of the taco shells, made with StarLink corn, was the first in the US history of GM food. While the federal authorities and Kraft have stressed that there is no evidence that the corn has actually harmed the health of consumers, it is still illegal for StarLink to enter the human food chain. Produced by French pharmaceuticals giant Aventis, the insect resistant corn uses the Bacillus thuringiensis gene to make a toxic protein called Cry9C. It is supposed to be eaten only by livestock or processed into ethanol fuel because the government has not yet been able to confirm that Cry9C is not a potential food allergen.
Kraft has now said it wants the US government to ban the planting of GM crops that are not yet cleared for human consumption, and the response from the biotechnic industry has been muted. While some have pointed out that the protein is near impossible to reliably detect, Val Giddings, an official from the Biotechnology Industry Organisation, commented: “Kraft’s suggestions have merit and deserve to be taken seriously.”
The reason for the mix-up with the taco shells is, as yet, unknown. However the US Food and Drug Administration has announced that it does not expect any more recalls of products which contain StarLink. This confidence may be a little premature, however, given that the problem seems to be the screening for StarLink at a large corn-flour mill owned by Azteca Milling, which is used by numerous companies, including Kraft, to process snack foods. President of Azteca Milling, Dan Lynn, commented that no GM corn whatsoever should be in the mill, and that the company was “trying hard to figure this out.”
Kraft, which has total annual revenue of US$27bn, has said that consumers taking part in the recall would get refunds for any products they return.