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Farmer wonders why USDA rushed to sell biotech corn

by Robert Schubert
CropChoice editor

(Thursday, May 15, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Jerry Rosman says the government sold his genetically engineered corn, a type that the European Union does not accept for human use, to Cargill for processing into food and feed products. In addition, some scientists believe that something in the corn may have played a role in the false pregnancies among Rosman's sow herd.

"I don't think there's a farmer out here who would knowingly put an unsafe product on the consumer's plate. But the government and Cargill did," said Rosman, a former Iowa corn and hog farmer. He had received a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency to grow the corn. However, an extended civil lawsuit within the family partnership put the corn under control of the court. It also tied up Rosman's money so that he couldn't pay back the loan. Eventually, the court turned the corn over to the FSA.

Did the U.S. Department of Agriculture tell Cargill about the genetically modified organisms? If so, why did Cargill accept the corn given its policy on biotech food bound for Europe? If not, why didn't Cargill's tests detect the unwanted genetics? Why didn't USDA listen to calls from Rosman, farm and environmental organizations to keep the corn so that scientists could continue researching the possible relationship between mycotoxins and the pseudopregnancies?

Bert Farrish, deputy administrator for commodity operations of the USDA's Farm Service Agency, said about 19,000 bushels of the corn were delivered to Koster Grain Co. in Iowa early in February.

However, one of the haulers, who requested anonymity, said he delivered the loads to the Cargill plant in Blair, Neb. The facility processes corn into sweetener and oil for use in human food, and produces gluten and lysine for livestock feed.

The corn was weighed at the Hancock Grain Company's scale in Portsmouth, Iowa, said Rosman, emphasizing that the government wanted to cover the tracks to Cargill.

The problem with Cargill taking the corn was that the insect- and herbicide-resistant corn is on the list of varieties that the company supposedly won't accept. According to the February and current "Cargill-AGM Daily Word" newsletters:

"...We cannot accept any corn varieties that are not approved in the European Union. Hybrids we can NOT accept include the following:

Biotech Trait Name
Roundup Ready((r)) Corn (all hybrids and stacks)
YieldGard/Roundup Ready Corn
Herculex I((r)) Corn
YieldGard((r)) + Liberty Link((r)) Corn
YieldGard((r)) Rootworm corn and any stacks (approval pending)."

Rosman grew the first, second and fourth on the list.

"It's important to remember," Rosman said, " that all of the grain is dumped into the same pits and moved about on the same conveyor system." A number of grain haulers confirmed that.

Although they are approved for livestock feed in Europe, lack of segregation at the plant means they likely are used to produce oil and sweetener, the processing of which supposedly removes the genetically modified traits.

In Rosman's view, the USDA, in taking title to the corn last year, broke the Monsanto technology agreement he had signed by selling the corn to Cargill. That agreement had made him, not Monsanto, responsible for steering his harvest out of European Union food chanels.

Cargill challenged Rosman's charge of product misrepresentation.

"We inspect, test and re-test every load and are confident of the quality of every product that leaves our facilities," said Cargill spokesman Bill Brady. He wouldn't comment on the Rosman corn purchase.

And then there's the issue of the false pregnancies in Rosman's sow herd.

The Iowa Farmers Union and the environmental organization Friends of the Earth last year implored the government to prevent the corn from entering the food and feed supply. Keeping the corn would allow for scientific analysis of known and unknown mycotoxins that might have contributed to pseudopregnancies in Rosman's and others' sow herds. It was for this reason that scientists with the Agricultural Research Service and environmental groups wrote to the judge in the family lawsuit that the corn be kept.

The USDA seemed to understand. It granted Rosman two 30-day extentsions on his loans. But in early November the Department changed course and tried to sell 950 bushels to an area ethanol plant. It rejected the corn because of high fusarium levels. Producing ethanol from corn with a toxin tends to concentrate the them in the gluten by-product that is used as animal feed, Rosman said.

Afterward, the FSA agreed to another unspecified extension that would allow the groups to obtain the money to buy the corn. But in January, the G&R Grain and Feed Company in Portsmouth bought the corn and mixed it with its other feed grain.

That action prompted Chris Peterson of the Iowa Farmers Union to ask why Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman would "allow her Department to sell this corn to a feed company before finishing a scientific investigation to learn if it is harmful to pigs or other farm animals? We want sound science to avoid reproductive problems in Iowa's swine herds. Independent hog farmers have told us that this problem could be the final blow to their farms."

Friends of the Earth purchased 5,500 bushels and is trying to buy the remaining 15,000 to hold for research.

The January sale of 950 bushels and February's deal with Cargill for the 19,000 bushels makes make it appear that USDA is hiding something, Rosman said. "Why doesn't it want the corn tested? Why would the Commodity Credit Corporation, which overseas hundreds of millions of bushels of grain, be in such a rush to get rid of this corn? Why is USDA pressuring researchers not to study the corn?"