Government inspectors say the food industry faces a challenging task in keeping products from conventional and modified crops apart in the marketplace. Bringing that point home was the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) recent discovery of StarLink corn in a conventional, white corn product — the first such instance of the genetic material showing up in a white corn product, according to FDA. Claiming it acted on a tip from a consumer, FDA found StarLink corn in a bag of Kash n' Karry white corn tortilla chips in Florida. The product was not recalled, but local grocery chains pulled it from their shelves. The discovery is troubling for the food industry because many companies that produce tortillas and corn chips dropped yellow corn in favor of white corn to make sure StarLink remained isolated. StarLink, which is genetically modified by Aventis CropSciences to contain a pesticide protein, has not been approved for human consumption because of possible allergic reactions. But FDA officials say tests conducted on 17 people who had complained of possible allergy attacks after eating corn products found no traces of StarLink. Aventis has petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow StarLink for human consumption, but the government agency has not yet acted on the proposal. Meanwhile, an FDA spokesman says the agency will continue to look into how the StarLink material got into a white corn product.

FSIS's Billy re-elected to Codex Commission
The administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Thomas J. Billy, has been re-elected to a second two-year term as chairman of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the international food standards organization. Codex seeks to ensure that the world's food supply is sound, wholesome, free from adulteration, and correctly labeled. This goal is pursued by promoting the adoption and implementation of food safety standards, codes of practice, and other guidelines developed by Codex countries. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman praised Billy's selection. "His re-election demonstrates the commitment of the United States to this important international food standards organization," Veneman said. Codex was established in 1962 and is the major international organization responsible for protecting the health and economic interests of consumers, developing international food standards, and encouraging international trade in food. The commission is comprised of members from 165 member nations, which represent 98 percent of the world's population.

Biotech crops gaining favor with farmers
If genetically engineered crops are not popular with consumers, they certainly are with U.S. farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that American farmers are harvesting bio-engineered crops at a pace that exceeds levels predicted by the government earlier this year. The growth comes despite lingering international resistance to food biotechnology. According to a USDA survey, some 51 million acres of soybean grown by farmers this year — or roughly 68 percent of the annual yield — are genetically engineered, as compared with 54 percent a year ago. Plantings of biotech corn are only up slightly — representing 26 percent of this year's total acreage as compared to 25 percent last year.