Aventis & EPA Knew Banned Starlink Corn Was Getting into Food Supply

Aventis & EPA Knew Banned Starlink
Corn Was Getting into Food Supply

New York Times
September 4, 2001

Altered Corn Surfaced Earlier

The government and the company that developed genetically modified StarLink
corn had at least some indication that the corn might be entering the human
food supply more than half a year before environmental advocates discovered
it in taco shells, according to a government document.

StarLink was approved for use as animal feed but not for human consumption
because of concern it might cause allergic reactions. But last September,
Friends of the Earth found traces of the corn in taco shells. That, and
discoveries in other foods, set off food recalls and depressed American corn

But in a survey conducted in December 1999, nine months before the taco
shell discovery, 2 of 230 farmers growing StarLink reported that they had
sold the corn for food use or for export while another 12.6 percent said
they did not know what happened to the corn after they had sold it. The corn
was not supposed to be exported because it had not been approved
in Europe and Japan.

The survey was commissioned by Aventis CropScience, the crop's developer,
which sent the results to the Environmental Protection Agency in a report
dated Jan. 27, 2000. Parts of the Aventis (news/quote) report were obtained
from the environmental agency under a freedom of information request by the
Center for Food Safety, a Washington group critical of genetically
engineered foods.

Critics of biotechnology said the incident showed the looseness of the
E.P.A.'s regulation. "It had a red flag that its approval process was not
working," said Joseph Mendelson III, legal director of the Center for Food
Safety. "Clearly they didn't do anything here until they became
embarrassed." An E.P.A. spokesman said the agency was looking into the

An Aventis official said the company was "not pleased with how we responded"
to the grower survey. This executive said that since the survey, done by an
outside market research firm, was anonymous, it was impossible to identify
the farmers who were selling their corn for improper uses. In general,
Aventis officials have been speaking to reporters only on the
condition that they not be identified.

The E.P.A. is now considering whether to renew approvals for the so-called
BT crops < genetically modified corn and cotton that contain a bacterial
gene that produces a toxin that kills pests. Mr. Mendelson said that the
StarLink incident had also raised doubts about whether regulations
concerning these crops < like the requirement aimed to prevent overplanting
so that pests do not become resistant to the toxin < would be adequately

The report from Aventis to the E.P.A. said that the program to restrict
StarLink to authorized uses was "highly effective."

The survey questioned 8 percent of the growers who had signed agreements
with the seed company. But after the situation with StarLink became public,
many farmers said they had not signed such agreements or were unaware of any

When StarLink was found in the taco shells last September, neither the
environmental agency nor Aventis indicated that they had had any inkling it
would happen.

"If there has been a violation of our licensing process, then we would have
a very great concern," Stephen Johnson, assistant administrator for the
E.P.A., was quoted as saying by The Washington Post (news/quote), which
reported the taco shell discovery. Margaret Gadsby, a spokeswoman for
Aventis, was quoted as saying, "We have difficulty imagining how our
corn could end up in the human food supply."

There has been as yet no proof that StarLink causes allergies. Government
tests did not detect evidence of allergies in 17 people who complained of
them after eating food they thought
contained StarLink.

But Keith Finger, a Florida optometrist who was one of those 17 people,
yesterday released a letter written to him by his allergist saying that he
"most likely" has an allergy to StarLink. The allergist, Norman Wasserman of
Vero Beach, Fla., said in the letter that Dr. Finger had a reaction to an
extract of StarLink corn in a skin prick test. Dr. Finger is suing Aventis
and the company that made the food he says caused the reaction.

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