Corn seed found contaminated with engineered corn

Thursday, March 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Some corn seed headed for sale to farmers has been contaminated by small amounts of a genetically engineered variety of the grain that prompted mass recalls of food last year, an industry official said Thursday.

Seed companies detected the genetically engineered grain while testing their stocks, said Bruce Knight, vice president of public policy for the National Corn Growers Association.

Representatives of the seed industry and farmers were to Thursday to discuss the finding, which was first reported in The Washington Post.

Seed companies ``have got a responsibility to not take this to the marketplace,'' said Knight, adding that the contamination did not appear extensive enough to cause a shortage of seed this spring.

Agriculture Department spokesman Kevin Herglotz said there ``may be low levels'' of StarLink contamination in seed corn. ``Once we learn more details, if there's any appropriate steps to be taken from there, we'll further evaluate it,'' he said.

The engineered corn, known as StarLink, has been approved only for animal consumption because of concerns about its safety for humans.

None of the contaminated corn seed has been planted, but farmers and grain exporters fear the discovery could alarm European and Asian companies that have said they will not buy any corn suspected of being tainted by StarLink.

Seed companies and food processors have been testing corn for StarLink under guidelines recommended by the government. The National Corn Growers Association has also advised farmers to take steps to avoid contaminating this year's corn crop with stray StarLink plants that will sprout from grain left in their fields last fall.

Farmers also have been warned not to buy seed that hasn't been certified as StarLink-free.

Any seed that tests positive for StarLink will be destroyed by the companies, said Angela Dansby, a spokeswoman for the American Seed Trade Association, adding that she was unaware of any that has to be disposed of so far. ``We all have a shared responsibility to address this problem and we're certainly doing our part,'' she said.

The creator of StarLink, Aventis CropScience, maintains the corn is safe for people and has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to approve it retroactively for humans. The EPA has not decided whether to do so, pending further study. A protein in StarLink, Cry9c breaks down slowly in the digestive system, raising questions as to whether it could cause allergic reactions.