Direct Proof of StarLink Poisoning

Direct Proof of StarLink Poisoning

Witness tells scientists biotech corn to blame for allergic reaction
July 18, 2001

Byline: By Philip Brasher, AP Farm Writer
Datelin: Arlington, VA

Scientists considering whether a variety of biotech corn should be allowed
into the food supply heard from a Florida optometrist that he's allergic to
the grain despite a negative government blood test.

Keith Finger showed the panel pictures of welts and rashes he says he
suffered Sunday after he ate a mixture of StarLink corn and water. He says
he earlier had allergic reactions to tortilla chips that tested positive for
the corn.

"The itching was horrible," Finger told the scientists Tuesday.

A member of the panel, Dean Metcalfe, an allergy specialist at the National
Institutes of Health, said symptoms like Finger's would be sufficiently
convincing for a doctor to order tests to tell whether he was allergic to
the corn.

Finger is among 17 people whose blood the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention tested in the spring for sensitivity to a special protein in the
corn. The tests were negative. Like Finger, all the 17 people had reported
allergic reactions after eating corn products.

Some of the scientists questioned the effectiveness of the test and why the
government had not sought out more potential victims by contacting doctors
around the country. Federal officials said they lacked the money for
wider-ranging tests.

Discovery of the corn in taco shells last fall led to nationwide recalls of
corn products. The corn has been withdrawn from the market, but the crop's
developer, Aventis CropScience, is asking the Environmental Protection
Agency to allow a minimal amount in the food supply to avoid further

The scientific advisers are deciding whether the agency should set a maximum
level for the corn of 20 parts per billion.

The scientists are not expected to issue their recommendation for a week.

A special protein in the corn, called Cry9C, breaks down slowly in the
digestive system, an indication that it might induce allergic reactions.
However, scientists say people would have to be exposed to the protein
repeatedly to become sensitive to it.

StarLink is among several varieties of corn genetically engineered to
produce their own pesticides. StarLink corn was supposed to have been grown
and handled separately from other grain, but farmers often failed to do so.

The Agriculture Department reported Tuesday that it had accounted for all
but 720,000 of the 128 million bushels of StarLink corn. Another 4.9 million
bushels may have been mixed with grain that went to food processors.

Steve Gill, a USDA official, said most of the corn should have been caught
in testing by processors and shippers.

In a report to the scientists, EPA says the actual levels of StarLink in
U.S. corn supplies range from 0.34 to 8 parts per billion, depending on the
method used to make the estimate.

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