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Dow says no evidence its bio-corn tainted crops

(Monday, March 3, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Randy Fabi, Reuters: CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Although it was fined by the Environmental Protection Agency for mishandling experimental biotech corn grown in Hawaii, Dow Agrosciences said that federal regulators found no evidence the corn contaminated nearby crops.

U.S. consumer advocates and environmentalists have urged the government to toughen biotech regulations to ensure no unapproved crops seep into the food supply.

Dow, a unit of Dow Chemical Co. (DOW.N), and Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a subsidiary of DuPont Co. (DD.N), were the first companies accused by the EPA of mishandling trial bioengineered corn crops.

Last December, the companies each agreed to pay a fine of less than $10,000 in a settlement with the EPA.

Dow was cited for not isolating its insect-resistant corn variety and for failing to plant enough trees as a buffer zone to prevent cross-contamination.

Thomas Wiltrout, general sales manager for the company, said EPA inspectors conducted two followup visits and concluded its corn did not actually taint any nearby crops. Wiltrout spoke in an interview at the annual meeting of the National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association.

Pioneer said there was a "slim chance" that conventional crops may have been contaminated by its experimental crop. Doyle Karr, a Pioneer spokesman, said an investigation would be concluded in the next few weeks.

As part of the agreement with the EPA, both seed companies neither admitted nor denied any wrongdoing.

The EPA action came on the heels of a federal investigation that found ProdiGene Inc. inadvertently contaminated soybeans with an experimental corn plant engineered to produce medicine.

The privately owned Texas company agreed to reimburse the government for the cost of buying and destroying 500,000 bushels of tainted Nebraska soybeans, and was fined $250,000 by the U.S. Agriculture Department.

The USDA and the Food and Drug Administration were expected to soon issue industry guidelines on planting pharmaceutical crops.

Foodmakers and consumer groups have demanded the government prohibit pharmaceutical crops from being grown near corn, soybeans and other crops used for human and animal food.

Dow said it recommended to the USDA that all pharmaceutical crops be grown outside the Midwest.

"These crops should not be planted in the Corn Belt," Wiltrout said. "You never know with this new technology ... and we should ensure regulations are in place to protect the integrity of our food supply."