WASHINGTON (B)--U.S. environmental and food and drug regulators should consider barring the promotion of future biotech foods until they have been approved for human consumption as a way to boost consumer confidence in the food supply, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman said Oct. 2.

Glickman was responding to questions from reporters about United States Department of Agriculture's announcement Sept. 29 that Aventis CropSciences will buy all of this year's crop of StarLink corn grown by U.S. farmers because traces of the corn--which has not been approved for human consumption--was found in commercially available processed foods.

According to Keith Pitts, senior aide to Glickman for biotechnology, USDA and EPA stepped in recently to require Aventis to purchase all of its StarLink corn after the two agencies became concerned that the company was not living up to its licensing agreement to prevent the crop from entering the human food system.

Pitts said the purchase--which he estimated costing Aventis somewhere between $90 million and $100 million--will be managed by USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). CCC will store all of the corn until Aventis presents a plan to dispose of the corn, either for ethanol manufacture or as animal feed.

Matt Rand, co-coordinator of GE Food Alert's U.S. campaign, told BridgeNews Oct. 2 that he was pleased that USDA and EPA acted to have Aventis purchase the entire crop, but said such measures were no substitute for rigorous testing and stronger regulation by the EPA and FDA.

"We are very disappointed with FDA," Rand said. "They are not taking this as seriously as they should."

Rand said that there would be further problems with unapproved biotech crops in the food system as long as companies were allowed to police themselves. According to Pitts, FDA has confirmed the presence of StarLink's genetically altered DNA in the Taco Bell taco shells originally tested by the consumer and environmental groups.

Pitts said that FDA has not found any traces of a suspect protein produced by the StarLink corn. The protein possesses chemical properties similar to known food allergens, and while StarLink corn is not known to cause any allergic reactions in people, the presence of the protein has held up its approval in human food.

StarLink corn is one of eight different types of Bt corn, which use a gene from a bacterium to produce a "natural" insecticide designed to ward off the European corn borer beetle larva.

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