Taco Bell Corp. has begun replacing taco shells at 7,000 Taco Bell restaurants, because they may contain the same genetically engineered corn found in a supermarket brand pulled from stores this week.
Although the restaurant’s taco shells use a different recipe, both may contain genetically engineered corn not approved for human consumption, and are made by the same company, Sabritas, based in Texas.
On Friday, Kraft Foods pulled millions of packages of taco shells off supermarket shelves after an anti-biotech environmental group found traces of the corn in shells purchased in a Washington suburb. Tests performed for Kraft at an independent lab found similar results, the company said.
“This is definitely a precautionary measure,” Taco Bell spokeswoman Laurie Gannon said today. “While our restaurant taco shells are a different recipe than Kraft’s, we wanted to determine whether ours contain the same unapproved corn variety claimed to be in Kraft’s product.”
The corn, one of the least grown of several biotech varieties, is approved for use only in animal feed because of questions about whether it can cause allergic reactions in people.
Kraft and Taco Bell officials said they know of no apparent threat to human health from the corn.
Gannon said the company has received no consumer health complaints.
Taco Bell uses several taco shell manufacturers. The taco replacement has begun in several restaurants and is scheduled to be completed next Friday.
Guided by One Priority
Kraft, a division of Philip Morris Inc., said it would discontinue production of the shells until it can be sure there is no more of the genetically engineered corn in the meal it buys.
The corn, which contains a bacterium gene that makes it toxic to an insect pest, is produced by Aventis Corp. and goes under the trade name StarLink.
“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 their compliance with all regulatory requirements,” said Betsy Holden, Kraft’s chief executive.
Kraft said in a statement this week that the government should never have allowed farmers to grow a biotech crop that isn’t approved for human consumption.
“All of us — government, industry and the scientific community — need to work on ways to prevent this kind of situation from ever happening again,” said Holden.
The taco shells were among 23 corn products that representatives of the Friends of the Earth submitted to Fairfield, Iowa-based Genetic ID Inc. for testing for the Cry9C protein.
A Biotech Setback
The Kraft recall was a setback to the biotechnology industry, which has been battling critics who claim the crops are a threat to human health and the environment. In Britain, the crops have been denounced as “Frankenfood,” but criticism in the United States has been muted.
Government regulators insist the crops are safe, and the EPA released a study earlier this week saying none of the insect-resistant crops have been developed so far pose any significant risks.
The nationwide recall includes packages labeled Taco Bell Home Originals 12 Taco Shells, Taco Bell Home Originals 18 Taco Shells and Taco Bell Home Originals Taco Dinner (12 shells, sauce and seasoning).