Nearly 80 seed companies find biotech contamination

Monday, April 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nearly 80 seed companies have found corn seed contaminated with traces of a biotech variety linked to nationwide recalls of taco shells, according to the Agriculture Department.

USDA has agreed to buy the contaminated corn to ensure that it doesn't get planted. Some 77 of the nation's 281 companies have asked for the purchase contracts, USDA spokesman Kevin Herglotz said Monday. Another 68 companies are still testing their seed.

``The important thing was to get (the buyback program) up and running, to make sure we could prevent any potentially contaminated seed from being planted,'' Herglotz said.

The department has estimated, based on information supplied by the companies, that less than 1 percent of the 40 million bags of corn seed produced for planting this year contains some trace of the biotech variety, known as StarLink.

StarLink was approved only for animal consumption because of unanswered questions about its safety for humans, but it was found last fall in taco shells and other products.

USDA has estimated the buyback program will cost taxpayers about $20 million. The department is expected to pay about $35 to $50 per bag for the contaminated seed. Corn seed retails for about $75 a bag.

The National Corn Growers Association has warned farmers against buying seed not certified as StarLink-free and has asked the Agriculture Department for helping in getting that message to growers through its network of field agents.

Farmers also have been advised to avoid contaminating their corn crops with stray StarLink plants that will sprout this spring from grain left in fields from last fall's harvest.