StarLink Corn Scandal Continues

Top Limit Sought for StarLink Corn

April 24, 2001
The New York Times

Pulling back from its previous proposal, the developer of the genetically
modified StarLink corn asked the government yesterday to set an upper limit
for the amount of the grain that would be acceptable in the food supply.

StarLink was approved for use as animal feed but not for human food because
of concerns that it contains a protein that might cause allergies. But the
corn leaked into the food supply, forcing recalls of taco shells and other
products, reducing American corn exports and imposing costly and
time-consuming testing requirements on the food industry.

To help eliminate problems for the food industry, Aventis CropScience, the
developer of the corn, asked the Environmental Protection Agency last fall
to allow the corn in human food for four years, arguing the public was not
likely to be exposed to high enough levels to cause any problems.

But yesterday, in an acknowledgment that such a request was not likely to be
granted, Aventis asked the E.P.A. to instead set an upper limit for the
corn's telltale protein in corn delivered to mills. The company hopes that
having an upper limit will be more acceptable than allowing any level at

"There was pretty strong reaction from a number of quarters related to the
broad relief we were requesting," said an Aventis executive who spoke on the
condition of anonymity.

StarLink contains a bacterial gene that allows the corn to produce a
protein, known as Cry9C, that kills the corn borer, a major pest. But Cry9C
has some physical and chemical characteristics of food allergens.

The Aventis executive said the requested upper limit, 20 parts per billion
of Cry9C, corresponds to the detection limit of the strips now used to test
corn coming into mills, which can detect one StarLink kernel in 2,400
kernels of corn. Aventis asked that the upper limit, known legally as a
tolerance, be set on the condition that mills continue to test all incoming

The company argues in its latest petition that new tests it has done show
that Cry9C is substantially destroyed in food processing. So if StarLink
concentration in corn coming into mills is kept below the requested upper
limit, the amount of Cry9C in finished foods would be extremely small, if
detectable at all. The public's exposure to the protein would be 80 percent
to 95 percent less than the already low levels Aventis had estimated last

Larry Bohlen of Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, said that an
upper limit still might not be acceptable because it is not known yet
whether Cry9C is an allergen and, if so, what levels are needed to cause
allergic reactions. "Aventis can't possibly have enough information to
conclude that StarLink is safe at any level in our food," he said.

Gene Grabowski, spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, said he
welcomed the new request from Aventis. "It's the art of the practical," he
said, saying that the ideal solution of no upper limit on Cry9C looked
unattainable. Mr. Grabowski said some way must be found to allow small
amounts of Cry9C into food because the current situation of zero tolerance
is untenable.

"Without a solution you have the risk of continued disruption to the food
supply," he said.

Associated Press 4/24/01

WASHINGTON (AP) - Nearly 80 seed companies have found corn seed contaminated
with traces of a biotech variety linked to nationwide recalls of taco
shells, according to the Agriculture Department.

USDA has agreed to buy the contaminated corn to ensure that it doesn't get
planted. Some 77 of the nation's 281 companies have asked for the purchase
contracts, USDA spokesman Kevin Herglotz said Monday. Another 68 companies
are still testing their seed.

``The important thing was to get (the buyback program) up and running, to
make sure we could prevent any potentially contaminated seed from being
planted,'' Herglotz said.

The department has estimated, based on information supplied by the
companies, that less than 1 percent of the 40 million bags of corn seed
produced for planting this year contains some trace of the biotech variety,
known as StarLink.

StarLink was approved only for animal consumption because of unanswered
questions about its safety for humans, but it was found last fall in taco
shells and other products.

USDA has estimated the buyback program will cost taxpayers about $20
million. The department is expected to pay about $35 to $50 per bag for the
contaminated seed. Corn seed retails for about $75 a bag.

The National Corn Growers Association has warned farmers against buying seed
not certified as StarLink-free and has asked the Agriculture Department for
helping in getting that message to growers through its network of field

Farmers also have been advised to avoid contaminating their corn crops with
stray StarLink plants that will sprout this spring from grain left in fields
from last fall's harvest.

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