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3-Food: Biotech corn protein found in 2nd variety



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TITLE:  Biotech corn protein found in 2nd variety
SOURCE: Washington Post, USA, by Marc Kaufman
        http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A49887-2000Nov21.html
DATE:   November 22, 2000

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


Biotech corn protein found in 2nd variety

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 brand 
seeds."

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 corn.

"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 human use.

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 consumption.

"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 StarLink recalls.

"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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