U.S. Biofood Industry Plans Advisory Panel

U.S. Biofood Industry Plans Advisory Panel

The U.S. biofood industry, under closer scrutiny since the recent contamination of taco shells with unapproved biotech corn, has said it would create an advisory panel with consumer groups, farmers, food makers, grain exporters and other groups.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) said consumer safety is the highest priority for members such as Pharmacia Corp., Aventis SA, and other companies that develop new gene-spliced crops and foods.

BIO said it would create an advisory group "to serve as a sounding board on important issues and provide counsel on our actions." Members of the group will be chosen from all segments of the food chain, the trade group said.

The group also said member companies would make public more scientific information and policies to safeguard human health when developing new gene-spliced products.

The industry move comes at a time when lawmakers, consumer groups and big overseas grain buyers have called for another look at U.S. regulations for gene-altered foods.

The Food and Drug Administration said on Monday it would begin testing a variety of snacks, cereals and other foods containing corn flour for the presence of an Aventis biotech variety that was approved only for animal feed.

Last month, Kraft Foods, a unit of Philip Morris Cos. Inc., announced a voluntary recall of Taco Bell brand taco shells sold in grocery stores after it discovered some unapproved bio-corn had crept into the food. So far, the corn has been found only in taco shells.

The 2000 harvest of the Aventis corn, known to farmers as StarLink, is being bought by the federal government to prevent any more food contamination. But experts say 10% to 20% of the crop has already been harvested and may have also been milled into flour for food products.

Regulators are also worried that some of last year's StarLink crop may have accidentally contaminated some food.

StarLink, grown on about one percent of all U.S. corn fields, was approved by regulators as an animal feed. But the variety cannot be used in human food because some federal scientists believe it may cause an allergic reaction.

The National Corn Growers Association urged farmers to sign up for the StarLink buy-back by the Friday deadline. Under the program, farmers will receive a 25 cent per bushel bonus to turn in the StarLink corn to the government.

"This program will help reassure our customers in the United States and worldwide that we comply with marketing regulations," Rick Tolman, executive vice president of the trade group, said in a statement.

Last week, U.S. grain groups hurried to reassure Japan -- the single biggest overseas buyer of American corn -- that StarLink would be carefully monitored. In April, Japan will follow the lead of more than a dozen nations and begin requiring labels on food that contains genetically-altered ingredients.

----------------

RELATED LINK:

Kraft Recalls Taco Shells With Bioengineered Corn