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National briefs

By Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 14, 2000


Recall of products made with biotech yellow corn widens

WASHINGTON -- The nation's largest manufacturer of tortilla products on Friday recalled all its tortillas, taco shells and snack chips made with yellow corn because the flour may contain an unapproved biotech variety of grain.

The move by Mission Foods Co. of Irving, Texas, followed a decision earlier this week by Safeway to remove all of Mission's taco shells from its stores and an earlier recall of taco shells by Kraft Foods.

Mission said it was also switching from yellow to white corn in all its products. A sister company, Azteca Milling, announced that it was recalling all its flour made from yellow corn. Azteca supplied the flour for both the Mission Foods and Kraft taco shells.

At issue is a variety of genetically engineered corn, known as StarLink, that is not approved for human consumption because of questions about its potential to cause allergic reactions. Federal officials say the health risk is remote.

"Our guiding concern has been to protect the safety of the consumer, our customers and our food products," said Steve Brunner, senior vice president of Mission Foods.

Critics of biotech food say the StarLink incident shows that government regulation of genetically engineered crops is inadequate.

The government should never have approved StarLink in the first place, until it was permitted to be used in food, said Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"This is really a black eye to the regulatory regime," she said.

Jesse Jackson offers help in ending transit strike

LOS ANGELES -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson offered to intervene Friday in a nearly month-old transit strike to help Los Angeles County transit officials and the union reach a contract agreement.

"Count on me as your friend as we seek to move beyond this crisis," Jackson told the City Council to cheers from about 300 uniformed bus drivers.

Jackson said fear had driven a wedge between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the 4,300 bus and train operators who began their strike on Sept. 16.

The drivers are afraid of losing a decent wage while the county is worried about "busting the budget," Jackson said.

"But in the end, fear must lose," he added.

The MTA and the union have accused each other of deliberately prolonging the strike that has left about 450,000 commuters, most of them poor, scrambling for transportation.

Tentative agreement reached between union and shipyard

BATH, Maine -- The Bath Iron Works and its largest union reached a tentative agreement Friday that would end a seven-week strike by 4,800 shipbuilders, a federal mediator said.

The agreement with the Machinists was reached after 36 hours of negotiations with mediators in Washington, said Elayne Tempel of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in Portland.

The 31/2-year agreement calls for wage increases of 4 percent, 4.5 percent and 5 percent in three steps, said Tony Provost, one of the union negotiators. It also cuts workers' health care premiums by up to half, with average savings per worker of $400 to $500 in the first year of the contract, he said.

The company also backed down on cross-training proposals that workers feared would lead to job cuts, he said.

"Nobody ever gets everything they want, but we're quite pleased with what we got," Provost said.

Elsewhere

HOUSTON FIRE CHIEF: Houston's fire chief has lost his job after months of controversy, including the deaths over the summer of two people who unsuccessfully pleaded with firefighters to take them to the hospital. Mayor Lee P. Brown asked for Lester Tyra's resignation on Thursday after an outside audit cited staffing deficiencies and "serious issues of managerial leadership" within the 3,500-person department, the nation's third-largest. "I know we've had a history of neglect. Those days are now over," the mayor said.

HORSESHOE CRAB: The federal government shut down Virginia's horseshoe crab fishery after the state refused to accept a quota to protect the crab from overfishing. U.S. Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta announced the moratorium will take effect Oct. 23. Violators can face 10 years in prison and $200,000 fines.

BOEING DEAL: Boeing Co., the world's largest manufacturer of airplanes, is close to a deal with United Parcel Service to convert 30 used jumbo jets into freighters for moving cargo, the Wall Street Journal reported. The companies have reached a tentative pact calling for the conversion of a fleet of MD-11 passenger planes into cargo jets. The deal, expected to be completed soon, is said to be worth up to $1.5-billion.

INDECENCY CHARGE: The former president of an Atlanta-based conservative legal foundation has pleaded guilty to a public indecency charge. Matthew J. Glavin, who resigned Oct. 4 as president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, entered his plea Thursday before a U.S. magistrate. The foundation helped launch the effort to have President Clinton disbarred in Arkansas and has fought to end government affirmative action programs across the country.

"LIVING WAGE:' The Santa Cruz City Council tentatively approved the nation's most generous minimum wage, $11 an hour with health benefits or $12 an hour without. The "living wage" ordinance would cover full-time workers employed by the seaside city or a for-profit company that has a contract with the city.

PLEA DEAL: A man pleaded guilty to federal charges of laundering money for James "Whitey" Bulger and promised to help with the investigation of the alleged mob boss who has been a fugitive for five years. Prosecutors in Boston said sentencing guidelines call for Kevin O'Neil to spend at least four years and three months in prison, which could be reduced if he provides "substantial assistance." U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns scheduled sentencing for Jan. 8 and allowed O'Neil to remain under house arrest with an electronic surveillance bracelet.

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