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Japan to avoid U.S. corn despite EPA decision on StarLink

(July 30, 2001 -- CropChoice news) – Commodities traders and food processors in Japan, formerly the largest customer for U.S. corn, report that they’ll continue trying to avoid buying corn from the United States because they worry it’s contaminated with transgenic organisms that the Japanese government has not approved.

This news comes despite scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announcing last week that they would disallow any maximum level, or tolerance, for StarLink in the human food supply. The transgenic corn had approval only for use in livestock feed or industrial use because of scientific concerns that it was allergenic to people. Nonetheless, cross-pollination and mishandling during grain processing and distribution led to the variety appearing in corn products such as taco shells and tortillas. The recall of hundreds of products followed.

Aventis stopped making StarLink, but argued that in the years it would take to remove the relatively small, but pervasive, amounts of StarLink from the U.S. corn supply that a minimum tolerance should be established. The EPA commission disagreed and opted to adhere to policy of zero tolerance for the variety.

Although the US agricultural community hopes that the corn farmers harvest this season will be free of StarLink, the Japanese remain concerned that the variety could linger. For this reason, they’ve been buying corn from Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and China. Japanese imports of corn for human consumption from these countries could reach 1.5 to 2.0 million tons this year, up from 100,000 to 200,000 tons the previous year. Its imports of U.S. food-grade corn could fall by 50 percent from the usual annual level of about 4 million tons.

The country normally imports 16 million tons a year, of which three-quarters goes for animal feed and the remainder for human use.

With the South American growing season winding down, Japanese traders will turn to Europe, Hungary in particular, for corn. Hungary's agriculture minister predicted that the corn crop will be some 7.0 million tons this year, almost a 50 percent jump from the previous year.