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Fresh Traces of StarLink in Spring Seeds


ASHINGTON, March 1 - The Agriculture Department asked today for an
accounting of the amount of seed corn tainted with a genetically
engineered variety of corn that caused a nationwide recall of food
products last year.

In continuing tests at the request of the department, seed companies
are finding fresh traces of StarLink, the genetically modified corn
made by Aventis CropScience, in small amounts of seed meant for sale
to farmers, government and industry officials said today.

Angela Dansby, spokeswoman for the American Seed Trade Association,
said, "Our members have been doing tests for StarLink since last fall
and, yes, they have found new traces."

With spring planting approaching, the government and the food industry
said they had hoped to prevent farmers from using seed corn
contaminated with StarLink, which had been approved for animal feed
but had not been approved human consumption because of concerns that
it might cause allergic reactions.

The contamination caused a costly disruption in the nation's
grain-handling system and forced the recall of more than 300 kinds of
corn chips, taco shells and other foods.

After a meeting today of representatives of the seed and food industry
and the government agencies overseeing biotechnology for agriculture,
Ms. Dansby said the trade association had agreed to canvas its 200
members and find out how many bags of seed were contaminated and the
value of that seed.

She said the Agriculture Department wanted the results by Friday.

Kevin Herglotz, the department spokesman, said: "We've urged the seed
companies to test and monitor the seed for StarLink. We've urged the
farmers to request verification that their seed is not contaminated."

Mr. Herglotz said today's gathering was part of a series of meetings
established last year by Dan Glickman, the agriculture secretary, to
contain the spread of seed contaminated by StarLink.

Last autumn, the government prodded Aventis into starting a $100
million program to buy as much of the StarLink harvest as possible,
and now nearly every major food and agriculture company is testing for
Cry9C, the protein produced by StarLink.

In November, Aventis offered to help seed companies test and screen
for StarLink contamination, and the companies agreed.

Agricultural officials said today that although it was unclear how the
seed became tainted, many suspected cross-pollination. Keeping
StarLink segregated - field to factory to consumer - from corn that is
meant for human consumption has proved difficult, officials say.

"There's no structure to keep the StarLink corn separate from other
corn," said Charles Hurburgh, a professor of agricultural engineering
at Iowa State University. "The source of the contamination is likely
to be crosspollination, where a field is pollinated by StarLink corn
from faraway fields."

Mr. Hurburgh estimated that less than 5 percent of the corn seed - or
about one million bags - would have to be taken off the market.

To the relief of officials, that seed had yet to be sold to farmers,
much less sold to countries with more stringent regulation of
genetically modified agricultural products.

Japan, one of the largest markets for American corn, rejected
shipments in January after finding traces of the genetically modified
corn. Japan imports about 4 million tons of corn for foods intended
for humans and 12 million tons of corn for animal feed.

"I do not expect that this will have any impact on our overseas
sales," said Val Giddings, vice president of the Biotechnology
Industry Organization. "The companies have enormous incentive to test
and know it won't be sent overseas."

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