Farmers Sue Aventis Over StarLink Corn Debacle

The New York Times
December 4, 2000,
Negligence Suit Is Filed Over Altered Corn


A class-action lawsuit accuses the developer of StarLink, a variety of
bioengineered corn that accidentally entered the food supply, of harming
American farmers through negligence.

The suit, filed on Friday in United States District Court in East St.
Louis, Ill., on behalf of farmers, is the first to seek damages. It
contends that the developer of the corn, Aventis CropScience, a unit of
Aventis S.A., was negligent in bringing StarLink to market.

The company, the suit says, failed to inform farmers that StarLink had
been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for use only in animal
feed and for industrial purposes out of concern that a protein in the
genetically altered corn might set off allergies in humans. The
appearance of StarLink in the food supply led to a nationwide recall of millions of
taco shells and other products.

The suit says that many StarLink farmers, who were unaware of the
planting or selling restrictions, allowed their crops to cross-pollinate with
traditional crops in nearby fields. They also allowed their crops to be
mixed up with regular corn supplies at grain elevators and processing

As a result, the suit contends, the crops of many corn growers who did
not plant StarLink were contaminated by StarLink corn and the subsequent
crisis in the nation's grain-handling system closed off foreign markets and
depressed the price of American corn here and abroad.

Lawyers at Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, the Washington firm that
filed the suit, said that after receiving E.P.A. approval and licensing the
StarLink trait to the Garst Seed Company and others, Aventis failed to
follow procedures ensuring the segregation of StarLink corn.

"They didn't show the kind of prudence or knowledge someone in the
industry should have shown that you could segregate this corn," said Richard S.
Lewis, a partner at Cohen, Milstein. "Now the whole credibility of the
American corn market is taking a beating and people who did not plant
StarLink corn cannot sell their crop in several markets."

A spokeswoman for Aventis CropScience, of Research Triangle Park, N.C.,
declined to comment today, saying the company had not seen the
complaint. But Aventis has canceled its marketing license to sell the StarLink
technology and has agreed to spend millions of dollars to prevent
StarLink corn from entering the food supply. The company has also said it will
buy back some StarLink supplies and compensate some farmers for their

Because it would take as long as four years for the corn now in the
nation's grain-handling system to be processed, Aventis has also asked
American regulators to approve the use of StarLink corn in food
supplies, saying there is little evidence that it poses risks to humans.

Scores of food companies and grain processors are now testing for
StarLink and trying to prevent it from entering the food supply. There have been
no confirmed reports of serious illnesses caused by StarLink corn.

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