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Source: (November 28, 2000)

Don't let biotech corn come to dinner, EPA is urged

Copyright 2000 Associated Press.

WASHINGTON -- Opponents of biotech food urged the government Tuesday not to allow a variety of genetically engineered corn to be used in food despite industry claims that the grain poses no risk to consumers.

The corn, which was only supposed to be used for animal feed and industrial uses, mistakenly entered the food supply, prompting recalls of taco shells and disruptions in grain handling. To avoid further problems, the corn's developer, Aventis CropScience, has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily approve its use in food.


That would unfairly relieve Aventis of financial and legal responsibility for the corn, the company's critics told EPA officials and a panel of scientists advising the agency.

"EPA should not trade consumer health and the integrity of its regulatory system to let off the hook a company that has clearly violated the law," said Rebecca Goldburg, a biotechnology specialist with Environmental Defense, an advocacy group.

The EPA never approved the corn, known as StarLink, for human consumption because of unresolved questions about its potential to cause allergic reactions. Aventis was supposed to ensure that the corn only went to approved uses but has acknowledged that some farmers did not know of the restrictions.

It is one of several varieties of corn that was genetically modified to make it toxic to an insect pest.

The EPA's scientific advisory panel is to decide by Friday whether to recomm end the temporary food-use approval. The key question for the scientists is whether there is enough of the corn in the food supply to pose a health risk even if it is an allergen, an issue that has never been settled.

The agency and the company have agreed that the risk of being exposed to the corn is relatively small although they disagree exactly how small.

"There is a very low probability of the corn being an allergen" and the chances of being exposed to it are "exceedingly low," said Larry Somerville, a company scientist.

The food industry presented evidence Tuesday suggesting that the special Cry9C protein in StarLink that is under study as a possible allergen is degraded significantly during processing.

The Food and Drug Administration reported that it has received 35 complaints from people who thought they may have been sickened by the corn. Many of those cases, as it turned out, did not involve allergic reactions, but 10 that did are now being investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


There is no way to tell whether StarLink was responsible for those illnesses because there is no test for an allergy to the corn, said Carol Rubin of CDC's National Center for Environmental Health.

Aventis and Kraft Foods are being sued in Illinois federal court over alleged allergic reactions by two individuals, one a 7-year-old boy. Kraft made StarLink-contaminated taco shells that were recalled in September.

Meanwhile, Aventis' Somerville downplayed the disclosure by his company last week that the Cry9C protein has also been found in a variety of corn sold by Garst Seed Co. Although it isn't known how the protein got into that seed, the corn is unlikely to reach the public because of testing being done by grain handlers, Somerville said.

"Extensive testing will keep this quantity under control. We do not believe it is a large quantity," he said.

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Michael R. Meuser
Data Research & GIS Specialist is an independent firm specializing in GIS project development and data research. We created the first U.S. based interactive toxic chemical facility maps on the internet in 1996 and we have been online ever since. Learn more about us and our services.

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