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3-Food: StarLink crisis creates confusion about GE food tests

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TITLE:  StarLink still cropping up in wrong places but are tests
SOURCE:, by Worth Wren Jr. (
DATE:   November 24, 2000

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USA: StarLink still cropping up in wrong places but are tests inconclusive?

IRVING, Texas - StarLink corn may end up mutating the worldview of 
genetically engineered food - possibly without ever making anyone sick and 
without today's science confirming its presence in anybody's food.

British and U.S. specialists in genetic analysis have warned that current 
technology still doesn't ensure accurate results from tests to detect ultra-
microscopic levels of genetically modified (GM) ingredients in foods.

Those are the same tests that won't let the marketplace ever forget this 
alleged corn-food intruder. This hybrid, genetically modified to produce 
its own all-natural pesticide, has sparked massive retail food recalls 
running at least into the 10s of millions of dollars. StarLink had been 
approved only for livestock feed and nonfood industrial uses, not for 
direct human consumption.

Alas, segregating this bit player from its yellow cousins in the corn world 
has proven to be impossible, if the few positive tests reported are 

Just this week Aventis CropScience, the developer and marketer of StarLink, 
confirmed the presence of StarLink's Cry9C protein in test samples of a 
variety of corn seed that was produced in 1998 and not sold under the 
StarLink trademark.

The seed brand in question was produced by Garst Seed Co., based in Iowa. 
Aventis CropScience performed the tests after several farmers reported that 
corn with no known connection to StarLink was testing positive for Cry9C, 
the protein that is toxic to some big corn pests.

Aventis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture say they don't know how 
Cry9C protein came to be present in a variety other than StarLink brand 
seeds. But the USDA has said the Garst seed intrusion may have been due to 
either drifting pollen in fields or careless handling of the Garst or 
StarLink seed.

In the two months since this manmade mutant's genetic signature reportedly 
flashed out of just one test of one sample of one brand of U.S. taco 
shells, about 7.5 million to 8 million pounds of U.S. yellow-corn foods 
have been recalled. The recalls affected nearly every grocery store and 
many food processors in the nation.

Irving, Texas-based Mission Foods, one of five companies at the core of the 
voluntary recalls, told that it could not confirm 
StarLink's presence after two independent labs conducted more than 200 
tests on samples of Mission's own yellow-corn products.

"The science did not help us," said Mission Foods spokesman Peter J. Pitts. 
"The tests couldn't help us. That's the reason we got out of the yellow-
corn business and into the 100-percent white-corn business" at least until 
the government sets new residue standards and approves reliable tests, he 

The company, he said, used two independent labs, including the same one 
used by Friends of the Earth to pursue StarLink in Taco Bell brand taco 
shells and other products. That one was Genetic ID of Ames, Iowa, and the 
other was Central Hans of New Orleans, Pitts said.

Samples, he said, were pulled from identical lots of Mission-made products 
and sent to both labs.

Pitts said the results, whether positive or negative for StarLink at either 
lab, were never confirmed by tests at both labs working with identical-lot 
samples of the same products.

"Even the same lab at times got contradictory results on tests of the same 
product sample," Pitts said, citing consistently contradictory results. "We 
could not replicate the findings" by whatever lab scientists found StarLink 
for Friends of the Earth.

Nonetheless, Mission Foods opted to go with "an abundance of caution" 
because even a remote consumer hazard was unwanted and a suspected 
violation of federal regulations would undermine its retail clienele's 
confidence, Pitts said. So, Mission rushed to retrieve and remove its 
suspect products from grocery shelves and distributors.

As for being a health hazard, consumers have reported to the federal 
government 14 or 15 cases in which they suspect their health may have been 
affected by eating foods that may have contained StarLink traces.

But 7 or 8 of the 14-15 cases have been unlinked from the controversial 
corn, according to still unofficial findings by the FDA, Centers for 
Disease Control and EPA, a government source said.

While the remaining health cases are still being investigated, none of the 
medical findings, so far, confirm any allergic or other human reactions to 
be StarLink induced, EPA and FDA sources told

The government, the sources said, still hasn't confirmed whether StarLink 
was present in any of the foods consumed by the people in the reported 

The American Association of Cereal Chemists says scientists agree that 
"current tests do not reliably detect the presence or absence of 
genetically engineered traits in processed food products."

"It is now possible to detect very low levels of GM ingredients in all 
kinds of foods," Andrew Tingey, a scientist with the United Kingdom's first 
GM-testing laboratory, told Food Industry News. "However, even the best 
available methods for quantifying the amounts found have a relative 
accuracy of plus or minus 10 percent. To rely on any results that do not 
accept this margin of error is an act of folly. It leaves the industry at 
risk of breaking the law on labelling."

On the U.S. StarLink trail, all but about 1.5 million pounds of the suspect 
foods were recalled on the basis of just three samples testing positive for 
StarLink in an industry typically handling around 500 billion or more 
pounds of raw corn annually.

It all began with just one positive test for StarLink in one sample of the 
Taco Bell taco shell brand made for Kraft by Sabritas Mexicali with corn 
flour from Azteca Milling, a sister company to Mission Foods. Kraft 
initiated the recall even before the government could run its own test, an 
FDA spokesman said.

The initial detection came from a lab chosen by watchdog activists at 
Friends of the Earth. Later, separate recalls - not linked to Mission or 
Azteca - were issued for a wider range of products from ConAgra Foods and 
Wilson Foods. FDA and EPA officials have declined to say how many StarLink 
tests have been run -- or release details of their results.

|                   GENET                     |
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