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Firm Developed High-Nicotine Plant, FDA Says

June 22, 1994|MARLENE CIMONS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The company contracted with another firm, DNA Plant Technology, of Berkeley, to work on tobacco breeding and much of the later work took place in DNA's laboratories and greenhouses in New Jersey, Kessler said.

During the ensuing years, the high-nicotine tobacco variety Y-1 was developed by a combination of conventional and advanced genetic breeding techniques that Kessler said ultimately resulted in a male sterile plant, which he said was an indication of its value to the company.

"This procedure ensures that when a plant is grown, it will not produce seeds that can be appropriated by others," he said.

He added: "What was accomplished was the development of a tobacco plant with a high nicotine content--about 6%--that grew well and could be used commercially," he said.

The plants were grown in Brazil in farms under contract to Souza Cruz Overseas, a sister company of Brown & Williamson, Kessler said.

"We do not yet have all the details of how Y-1 came to be growing in Brazil," Kessler said, pointing out that until 1991, it was illegal to export tobacco seeds or live tobacco plants out of the United States, except for special experimental purposes and in very small amounts--less than half a gram.

How the Y-1 seeds were shipped outside the United States is not known. Kessler said officials from each company--Brown & Williamson and DNA Technology--have told the FDA that the other company may have been responsible.

On June 10, officials from DNA Technology told the FDA that "it had been authorized by Brown & Williamson to tell the FDA that Y-1 had never been commercialized," meaning that it had never been used in its cigarettes, Kessler said.

But Kessler described a paper trail of invoices, obtained by the FDA, which showed that more than half a million pounds of Y-1 were shipped to the company in September, 1992, from Souza Cruz Overseas.

"Four days ago, after our questioning . . . Brown & Williamson told FDA that, in fact, 3 1/2 to 4 million pounds of Y-1 tobacco are currently being stored in company warehouses in the United States," Kessler said, and "more significantly, that Y-1 had, in fact, been commercialized" and used in five of the company's brands.

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