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StarLink Corn Has Contaminated 25% of US Corn Supply

StarLink Corn Has Contaminated 25% of US Corn Supply

Testing Shows Unapproved, Altered Corn More Prevalent Than Thought
(Boston Globe, May 17, 2001. By Anthony Shadid)

WASHINGTON--StarLink, a genetically engineered corn not approved for
human consumption, has turned up in nearly one out of four grain samples
undergoing the government's most stringent tests, a far higher number
than previously reported and another sign of the chaos the corn's presence
has caused.

The Department of Agriculture has tested 118,000 samples since
November. Overall, about 9 percent have tested positive for StarLink.
But since February, the USDA has carried out more accurate tests that
can determine one kernel of StarLink in a batch of 2,400 -- the standard
used by some export markets and the Food and Drug Administration. Of
those 6,000 samples, 22 percent have tested positive for the corn, which
the federal government barred for human use because of concerns it might
cause allergic reactions, said John C. Giler, chief of the Grain
Inspection Service's policies and procedures branch.

"It's definitely in the system because we're finding it." Traces of the corn --
first discovered in a sample of Taco Bell taco shells -- have led to the
voluntary recall of nearly 300 products, including more than 150 brands
of corn chips and taco shells. It has recently also turned up in corn dogs,
corn bread, polenta and hush puppies. Its health danger remains a matter
of fierce debate. Dozens of people have reported getting sick from eating
taco shells and other food made with the corn, and the government is awaiting
an investigation of their complaints. Critics also cite a report by a panel of
independent scientists in December to the Environmental Protection Agency
that StarLink shows a "medium likelihood" of causing an allergic reaction in
some people. That report, however, said the low levels of the protein likely
present in U.S. food probably would not make people sick.

Aventis CropScience, which sold the seed before it was removed from the
market in the fall, dismisses any health risk posed by the corn. A company
official said the amounts of StarLink are so negligible that "the risk of allergic
reaction approaches zero." In the end, the more tangible danger may be to
the country's system for handling grain shipments. The corn's presence has
already caused major disruptions in domestic and export markets and the
USDA has described the task in removing it from the grain supply as "an
unprecedented challenge." While the corn was grown on less than 1 percent
of total U.S. corn acreage in 2000, it has become diffused through the system.
Simple mixing in grain elevators, barges and combines is one way.
Another is cross-pollination with other varieties, sometimes miles away.
"It really tells you how much grain is co-mingled, that's the lesson
from it," said Susan Keith, a lobbyist for the National Corn Growers
Association. "It's amazing how a very few kernels get mixed in with
millions of bushels." The problem will likely persist for years, Keith
said.

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