Fair Use Statement
Source: Common Dreams (November 22, 2000)
Biotech Corn Protein Found in 2nd Variety
by Marc Kaufman
The genetically engineered protein that caused massive recalls of taco shells and other corn
products has been found in a second variety of corn, raising questions about how it got
there and how much additional corn may have been contaminated.
The company that created the biotech corn, Aventis CropScience, said yesterday that the
gene that was spliced into its StarLink corn--Cry9C--had been found in another corn hybrid
produced by the company licensed to produce StarLink.
"Aventis CropScience performed
the tests after several farmers
stated that corn with no known
connection to StarLink was testing
positive for Cry9C," the company
said in a statement. "Aventis
CropScience does not know how
Cry9C protein came to be present
in a variety other than StarLink
The seed company that produced
and distributed StarLink corn under
license from Aventis, Garst Seed
Co. of Slater, Iowa, said yesterday
that it was notifying farmers who
bought the possibly contaminated
"We don't know how many lots
might be effected, but we don't
currently think it is substantial," company spokesman Jeff Lacina said.
Aventis notified federal agencies about the discovery yesterday, and Department of
Agriculture officials will meet with Garst and Aventis officials on Monday. "We are aware of
the situation, but at this point don't know what happened and how," a USDA official said.
The StarLink variety of corn has already raised damaging questions about how crops
produced through biotechnology are grown and distributed. Starlink, which is engineered
with a gene to protect crops from pests, was approved for use in animal feed. But because
it might cause dangerous allergic reactions in some people, it was never approved for
human use. Although officials said the risk to the public is low, dozens of products found to
contain the corn were recalled as a precaution, costing millions of dollars.
Finding the Cry9C protein in another variety of corn raises new questions about how
carefully the biotechnology industry is producing and distributing biotech products.
It also raises the possibility that the spread of the gene from StarLink to another hybrid was
caused by "gene flow"--the process by which genetic material from one plant is naturally
transmitted to others in the field.
The discovery comes at a sensitive time in the StarLink saga, because the Environmental
Protection Agency has said it will decide soon whether to retroactively approve the corn for
Aventis requested the new review last month, after presenting what it said was new
information showing that the Cry9C protein did not cause food allergies. But many critics
have attacked the new information as unconvincing.
Because Aventis is so eager to have the EPA declare StarLink fit for human consumption,
some federal officials said yesterday that the new information about Cry9C being found in
other corn may be an attempt to bolster the argument that it is safe for human
"This is a company with an absolutely horrible track record regarding StarLink, and now
they are pointing fingers at another corn hybrid with the same gene," said an administration
scientist familiar with the situation. Aventis faces enormous legal liability because of the
"This definitely has to be investigated, but some suspicion is also in order as to why we are
learning this right now," the scientist said.
In a statement, the company said the unapproved gene was found in a Garst hybrid
produced in 1998, but Lacina said that corn seeds are sometimes held for several years
before being planted.
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