When a consumer group reported in September that taco shells had been found to contain unapproved bioengineered corn, the announcement fanned the flames of the controversey that has surrounded genetically modified food since its inception. The corn, known as StarLink, had been bioengineered to resist pests. But because of a small risk of allergic reaction in humans, the corn was approved only for animal feed. Since then numerous companies involved with the taco shell manufacturing and distribution have recalled the products and removed the shells from stores. Yet despite the highly publicized reports, most Americans are not concerned about food safety, according to the results of a new study.

North Carolina State University sociologist and food scientist Tom Hoban surveyed 500 Americans to assess whether their attitudes toward genetically modified food had shifted in the wake of the StarLink incident. Although 53 percent had heard about the recall, no one reported avoiding any foods containing genetically modified ingredients. A mere 5 percent had taken action as a result of concerns over bioengineered foods, and many of these people just wanted more information. Moreover, 67 percent of those surveyed said they would purchase produce that had been genetically altered to resist pesticides or be more nutritious. For most people food spoilage and bacterial contamination were far more worrisome than genetic modification. "Biotechnology is simply not an issue of concern for the vast majority of U.S. consumers," Hoban concludes. "In fact, most U.S. consumers are looking forward to the benefits that biotechnology will provide in the future."

But the official jury is still out on the StarLink corn case. Following the September news reports, 44 people claimed that eating food that contained the corn made them sick-- incidents that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking into consideration. Depending on the recommendation of a panel of scientists appointed to evaluate StarLink safety, scheduled to be submitted on Friday, the EPA will decide whether or not to grant Starlink maker Aventis SA temporary clearance to use the product in human food. If they do not, the company could face huge liability claims.