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StarLink stays with us

(April 24, 2001 --Cropchoice news) -- Aventis has discovered low levels of its StarLink corn in more food products than previously thought. Tests revealed the transgenic variety in corn bread, polenta and hush puppies.

StarLink, which Aventis designed to resist the European corn borer, never had approval for human consumption because of concern its Cry9C protein might be allergenic.

The Food and Drug Administration is testing the blood of about 20 people who believe they suffered allergic reactions after eating products containing the corn.

The latest chapter in the StarLink saga leaves some wondering whether the government will act as it did last year when it recalled 300 products after the discovery of the corn in taco shells. Japan and South Korea, where opposition to transgenic foods is growing, responded by cutting back their shipments of bulk corn from the United States.

What's more, Japan recently launched a "zero tolerance" policy toward unapproved transgenic foods. The Japanese health ministry will randomly inspect 58 shipments of U.S. corn for food consumption through March 31, 2002. This amounts to 5 percent of all the 1,200 U.S. corn shipments registered during fiscal 1999-2000. Any corn that tests positive for StarLink will be directed to industrial uses, destroyed or returned to sender.

But rather than spending the money on tests that likely would reveal StarLink in U.S. shipments, Japan's buyers are willing to pay premiums for corn. They are turning to China, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa to cover the majority of first quarter needs.

The fact that South Korea for the first time ever purchased corn from Brazil lends credence to predictions that the South American nation, which doesn't allow the commercial cultivation of transgenic crops, could provide some competition for U.S. growers.

The 52,500 metric tons that food-grade corn buyer KOCOPIA had purchased from Brazil in January arrived in South Korea on Thursday. Unhappy with what it saw as a poor quality Chinese product and U.S. corn likely tainted with StarLink, KOCOPIA opted for the Brazilian crop.

A European Union official told The Washington Post yesterday that it would reject and return to sender any imported processed foods found to contain unapproved transgenic ingredients.

Aventis, which failed in its attempts last year to get the Environmental Protection Agency to retroactively grant an exemption allowing the presence of StarLink in food, yesterday asked that the agency allow 20 parts per billion of the corn variety.

Knowing that the corn will remain in the food supply in the near future, an Aventis report concluded: "If the EPA does not act now, the ongoing disruption in the domestic and international food markets -- in the form of recalls and rejections of exported products -- undoubtedly will escalate." Aventis found that six of the 12 yellow corn products it tested contained StarLink.

But, at least for now, the government is siding with environmental and food safety organizations that oppose allowing any presence of StarLink in food. In short, no StarLink allowed in the human food supply.

Aventis, FDA and EPA officials report that wet milling, heat, pressure and treatments employed to turn corn into oil, syrup, and other products break down the Cry9C protein.

Source: The Washington Post, Cropchoice archives