USDA doesn't know how
WASHINGTON, Nov 21 (Reuters) - The discovery that StarLink bio-corn contaminated another variety of corn in 1998 may be due to either drifting pollen in the field or careless handling of the seed, the U.S. Agriculture Department said on Tuesday. The worrisome new incident prompted the USDA to call a special meeting on Monday with department scientists, economists, policymakers as well as representatives of the U.S. food and grain industries.
StarLink, made by Aventis SA, is at the center of an unprecedented flap over U.S. bio-engineered crops. Since StarLink was discovered in taco shells in late September, more than 300 kinds of chips and flour have been recalled,food processors' production lines have been disrupted, and Japan and other key buyers of U.S. corn have put purchases on hold.StarLink, which went on the market in 1998, is allowed in livestock feed but U.S. regulators barred it from human food because of unanswered questions about allergic reactions.
Aventis announced on Tuesday that it found some of the same Cry9C protein --the key component of StarLink corn -- in another variety of 1998 corn seed produced by Garst Seed Co. of Iowa.
Aventis said it did not know how the contamination occurred two years ago.Under Aventis licensing agreements, Garst and other corn seed producers must meet quality standards and use the Cry9C technology only in varieties sold as StarLink.
DRIFTING POLLEN OR MISHANDLING?
Government officials said they had little information."At this point, we don't yet know exactly what happened and how," said USDA spokesman Andy Solomon."The question here is, was it gene flow or mishandling during production and distribution by this one company that caused this?" he added. Gene flow, which can occur as pollen from corn plants is blown into other fields, has long been a worry of environmentalists and organic farmers.Anti-biotech groups have urged the federal government to tighten restrictions on gene-spliced crops, and at the very least require much bigger buffer zones to protect other plant species. Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency requires a 660-foot buffer around fields of StarLink corn. Another possible cause of the contamination could be careless handling of the corn seed at some point in its production, bagging or marketing. Hybrid seed corn must be meticulously segregated and handled to preserve its identity.Garst, based in Slater, Iowa, said in a statement that the Cry9C protein was found in "limited quantities" of a single, corn hybrid produced by the company in 1998. The company said it discovered the StarLink protein through on-going seed testing procedures.Garst said its tests showed no sign of the Cry9C protein in 1999 or 2000 crops of the same corn variety.
USDA UNSURE OF ADDITIONAL STEPS
The USDA said it planned no immediate action, but would meet with industry officials on Monday to analyze the incident. The meeting will help determine "what additional steps, if any" the government or industry needs to take, Solomon said. After StarLink was discovered in taco shells, the government prodded Aventis into launching a $100 million buy-back program to collect as much of the current harvest as possible. Although StarLink was grown on less than 1 percent of all U.S. corn fields, it was commingled with much larger quantities of corn. The Cry9C protein was engineered into StarLink to protect the young corn plant from destructive pests.The discovery of the protein in another kind of corn seed was seized on by anti-biotech activists as evidence that Aventis and other makers cannot keep control of new gene-spliced varieties.
"It shows the potential for human exposure to this is not just from the StarLink corn that has yet to be accounted for in this year's harvest," said Charles Margulis, a biotech expert with Greenpeace. "Clearly, Aventis doesn't have any idea how much is really out there, and how much consumers may be exposed to this" Greenpeace is one of two dozen members of a coalition of environmental and consumer groups that wants the government to temporarily halt approvals of new bio-crops or initiate strict tests for human and environmental safety. Aventis has presented the government with new scientific data that it says proves StarLink is no threat to human health. The Environmental Protection Agency will hold a meeting next week to analyze the data and help determine if StarLink should be given temporary approval as human food.
Biotech Protein Found in Seed
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Material from a genetically engineered type of corn found in taco shells earlier this year has been discovered in a different seed, officials said Tuesday. The discovery raises the possibility that the material could find its way into other food products.Federal agencies, including the Agriculture Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, have been notified of the agricultural mixup.``We don't yet know exactly what happened where and how,'' USDA spokesman Andy Solomon said. ``We are working with the companies involved and others in the industry to learn more about the nature and the extent of the situation.'' The mixup was discovered by an Iowa corn company testing StarLink corn, which is not approved for human consumption because of unresolved questions about its potential to cause allergic reactions.
Protein from StarLink was found in non-StarLink hybrid seed corn produced in 1998 and grown and harvested the following year. Garst Seed Co., which discovered the problem, said it was trying to determine how widespread it might be. ``We're too early into it to know exactly how many units, bags may have been affected,'' company spokesman Jeff Lacina said.The seed's developer, Aventis CropScience, said Tuesday that it had conducted its own tests after several farmers announced they had found the StarLink protein in other types of corn. Aventis said it could not explain the findings. The company has said it wants the EPA to grant a temporary food-use permit for the corn and submitted data last month that it said showed the grain posed no hazard to consumers. Discovery of the corn in the food supply has forced nationwide recalls of taco shells and forced the shutdown of processing plants.
New StarLink corn
TOKYO, Nov 22 (Reuters) - The discovery that StarLink bio-corn contaminated another variety of corn in 1998 has deepened doubts in Japan over U.S. assurances that its corn supply is StarLink-free, traders said on Wednesday. Franco-German life sciences firm Aventis SA said on Tuesday it had found some Cry9C protein -- the key component of StarLink corn -- in a variety of 1998 corn seed produced by Garst Seed Co of Iowa.
Aventis said it did not know how the contamination occurred. Garst said in a statement that the Cry9C protein was found in "limited quantities" of a single, corn hybrid produced by the company in 1998. The Cry9C protein was engineered into StarLink to protect the young corn plant from destructive pests.
The discovery came after some Japanese importers resumed U.S. corn buying for first-quarter shipment early this week, ending a four-week standstill in domestic corn trade after the discovery of traces of StarLink corn by a local consumer group last month in food and animal feed, traders said. "The discovery has deepened our concerns about the U.S.'s ability to guarantee that our corn imports will be free of StarLink," said a senior trading house trader, adding it would slow moves towards resuming normal trade. The StarLink controversy has already prompted importers to scramble to find other supply sources.
Japanese importers have only secured about 30 percent of their needs for first-quarter shipment, the trader said. By this time last year, they had completed nearly all their first-quarter term deals.
CAUSE OF CONTAMINATION IN DOUBT
The U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) said late on Tuesday the discovery of the StarLink protein may be due to either drifting pollen in fields or careless handling of the seed. StarLink, which went on the market in 1998, is allowed in animal feed but U.S. regulators barred it from human food because of unanswered questions about allergic reactions. In Japan, it is not approved for human food and animal feed.
The USDA and Japan's Health Ministry had finalised details of an agreement for testing corn shipped to Japan as food to ensure it does not contain the genetically modified StarLink grain, a U.S. Embassy official said on Tuesday. A protocol has not yet been reached for testing animal feed corn shipments, which fall under the jurisdiction of Japan's Agriculture Ministry. But ministry officials say the protocol agreed for food use could also be applied to animal feed.
However, traders said the U.S. testing plan fell short of a full safety guarantee and complained that the cost of the tests may eventually be charged to Japanese importers. Japanese end-users are reluctant to pay the extra cost because it will raise local prices for food and animal feed.
The extra cost could also affect domestic meat trade, widening the price gap between meat imported from the United States, where StarLink feed may be used, and that produced in Japan, where the feed is banned, he said.Japan, the biggest consumer of U.S. corn, imports about four million tonnes of corn per year for food and another 12 million tonnes for animal feed,mostly from the United States.
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