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Green Groups to Test Bt Corn for Allergic Reaction

Green Groups to Test Bt Corn
for Allergic Reaction.

10/11/2001
Reuters English News Service 2001.

Web Note: The Organic Consumers Association is an active member of the
Genetically Engineered Food Alert <www.gefoodalert.org> along with Friends
of the Earth, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Center for Food
Safety, Pesticide Action Network, National Environmental Trust, and the
Public Interest Research Group.

WASHINGTON, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Unhappy with a federal investigation into
dozens of allergy complaints, a coalition of U.S. environmental and consumer
groups said on Thursday they would launch their own probe into whether the
reactions were caused by genetically engineered corn.

The Genetically Engineered Food Alert said its action was in anticipation
of the Environmental Protection Agency's decision next week to renew the
registrations of Bt corn. The EPA has been weighing whether to extend the
registration of the gene-spliced plants, and has extended its deadline twice
for public comments on the issue.

Foodmakers contend that Bt corn is safe and eliminates the need for other,
more dangerous pesticides. Green groups say more research is needed into the
long-term impact of Bt corn on the environment and human health.

Bt crops are engineered to produce the pesticide Bacillus thurigiensis,
which protects growing plants from destructive pests.

Larry Bohlen, spokesman for Friends of the Earth and a coalition member,
said EPA was rushing the re-registration process despite the group's
concerns about its long-term impacts on health and the environment.

"The agency should gather the evidence needed to assure consumers that Bt
corn is safe to eat before it approves the corn for planting," Bohlen said.

Several companies' Bt corn registrations expired Sept. 30 and Bohlen said
the EPA is expected to issue a decision Monday.

The coalition has urged EPA to suspend Bt corn registrations until more
evidence shows the products won't cause allergic reactions.

The group said it will send samples of Bt corn varieties to allergists, who
can then test their patients through controlled "skin prick" tests. The test
results will be made public.

Last year, the group was the first to alert the public that an unapproved
genetically modified corn variety had been found in the food supply.

The discovery of StarLink corn, made by the European drug giant Aventis
SA, in taco shells sparked the recall of hundreds of food products and hurt
U.S. corn exports overseas.

A U.S. science advisory panel earlier this year said the gene-spliced corn
had a "medium likelihood" of being a human allergen.

For Immediate Release
October 11, 2001

Contact: Amanda Gordon
202-887-8831 or 202-550-5753 (cell)

EPA Gears Up to Approve Controversial
Bt Corn Without Conducting Human
Health Studies

Coalition of Consumer and Environmental Groups Announces
Plan to Independently Test Bt Corn for Allergic Reactions

Washington, DC ­ A coalition of environmental and consumer groups announced
today that it will implement a new allergy testing program for individuals
who have suffered unexplained allergic reactions that are potentially
related to genetically engineered corn. The program is an attempt to fill
the void created by a lack of government testing.

"Once again, similar to the discovery by the GE Food Alert coalition last
fall of StarLink corn in the food supply, consumer and environmental groups
are taking the lead in protecting human health when it comes to genetically
engineered crops," said Matt Rand, Biotechnology Campaign Manager for the
National Environmental Trust, a coalition member.

The Environmental Protection Agency is poised to approve the re-registration
of genetically engineered corn known as Bt on October 15th even though the
Agency has failed to conduct human health studies on the corn. Bt
genetically engineered corn has been engineered to contain it¹s own
pesticide that is expressed in every cell of the plant including the edible
portion.

The groups, concerned that the government is not taking sufficient steps to
ensure public health, met with EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman on
August 24 to voice their concerns and during the meeting were told by EPA
officials that no allergy testing had been done since it was last
recommended by EPA scientific advisors in July. In that meeting, coalition
members were also told that there were no plans to do any testing before
re-registering Bt corn.

"EPA is rushing the re-registration process of Bt corn without careful
examination. The Agency should gather the evidence needed to assure
consumers that Bt corn is safe to eat before it approves the corn for
planting," said Larry Bohlen, Director of Health and Environment Programs
for Friends of the Earth, a coalition member.

EPA has not collected or evaluated current health or ecological data on Bt
crops. The Agency¹s own science advisors recently reviewed two studies on Bt
crops that suggest that all Bt crops may be allergenic and stated in a
report to the EPA, "These two studies suggest that Bt proteins could act as
antigenic and allergenic sources." When the Agency was questioned at a
public hearing at a later date, the agency said they had not followed up on
the statement; they had not conducted any test or studies to evaluate if
there was potential allergenicity with these crops. In addition, the
advisors have consistently called for surveillance and allergy testing of
high-risk groups such as children and farm/mill workers.

"The Agency has had the ability for several years to design and conduct
allergy testing, yet they have refused. They have turned a blind-eye on
this issue," continued Rand.

EPA has several registration options in terms of Bt corn, including delaying
approval and making a determination when sufficient data has been collected
on human allergenicity.

In EPA¹s absence, the Genetically Engineered Food Alert coalition has
arranged for lab-certified samples of varieties of genetically engineered
corn in question to be made available to allergists nationwide. The samples
will allow the allergists to perform controlled "skin prick" allergy tests
in their offices for their patients who have suffered unexplained
life-threatening or severe allergic reactions. More than 200 people
reported unexplained allergies to corn and reported them to food companies
or the FDA, but no government investigation examined all these cases. The GE
Food Alert coalition plans to release the results of the testing with the
permission of those who are tested.

In addition, the GE Food Alert coalition is also informing the nation¹s top
100 food manufacturers that EPA plans to approve Bt corn without having done
studies on human allergenicity. This leaves companies vulnerable to the
same liability issues they faced last Fall with StarLink genetically
engineered corn, which EPA could not rule out was a human food allergen and
triggered hundred of food recalls.

###

About GE Food Alert and GEFoodAlert.org

Genetically Engineered Food Alert founding members include: Center for Food
Safety, Friends of the Earth, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,
National Environmental Trust, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide
Action Network North America, and the State Public Interest Research Groups.

Genetically Engineered Food Alert believes that genetically engineered food
or food ingredients should not be allowed on the market until they are
adequately safety tested and labeled. The campaign provides web-based
opportunities for individuals to express concern about genetically
engineered food and fact sheets on health, environmental and economic
information about genetically engineered food. The campaign is endorsed by
more than 250 scientists, religious leaders, doctors, chefs, environmental
and health leaders, as well as farm groups.


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