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Cropchoice Opinion ...
Our Best Customer Gets Starlinked

(25 October - Cropchoice Opinion) -- American agriculture keeps giving its customers a rough ride on GMOs. Just a couple of weeks ago, an emergency squad of the top brass of American grain exports were in Tokyo to reassure the Japanese that we wouldn't export the Starlink problem. Well, guess what?

It has been confirmed that we haven't just Starlinked ourselves (and, probably, Mexico), we've Starlinked Japan too. For America's customers, Starlink is proof that the US isn't up to the task of giving its customers what they ask for. The message America is sending to the world is, as one Kenyan recently put it, "Just shut up and eat your GM soup".

Yesterday the Japanese Consumers Union identified illegal Starlink in snack foods and animal feed, while Reuters reported that an entire 55,000 ton corn shipment to Japan may have been rejected because it contained the unapproved corn.

American elevators have started going public with the stories of processors rejecting Starlink, forcing the elevators to sell cheap to ethanol and animal feed makers. This offended poultry giant Tyson, which doesn't want Starlink concerns to spill over to chicken buying consumers. So, Tyson promptly declared that it wasn't going to buy any more Starlink, not even for chicken feed.

Consumer groups in Europe, and probably Canada, Korea, Mexico, Hong Kong, and a number of other countries and sending dozens of boxes of corn flakes, candy bars, tortilla chips, and anything else suspected to contain American corn to the genetic testers. At up to $400 a pop, it's a great time to be in business if you run a GMO testing laboratory.

When some of these tests results come back positive for Starlink, there will be more calls to reject American grain, and more suspicion about GMOs in general and American exports in particular. Already, a batallion of small scale tortilla makers in Mexico has banded together with anti-American slogans in the "GMO-Free Tortilla Makers Network". In their minds, there's an aspect of the Starlink story that's about protecting Mexican heritage from Yankee imperialism.

In a few years business school students will study the Starlink disaster as an example of the self-inflicted wounding of an export industry.

Through it all Aventis, Starlink's maker, is buying what Starlink it can at a modest premium and trying to match tainted elevators and bins with willing buyers. Of course, don't chalk it up to kind hearts - the government is angry at how ineffective Starlink has made its regulations look, and Aventis is scared stiff over the massive liability potential. Lawyers are hot on the Starlink case, especially when they hear that many farmers say they were never told it needed to be segregated. At a cost of over $100 million and counting (before any lawsuits), it could eventually be enough to bring down Aventis' entire US crop science operation.

Some observers have been surpirsed at the play the Starlink story has in the media and have only recently allowed that the fiasco has some staying power. We think the story may have more than staying power - after a month it only shows signs of getting bigger.