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Government seeks stricter testing, and Aventis pays (some) for StarLink damage

(January 10, 2001 – Cropchoice news) – The federal government wants seed and grain milling companies to do a better job of testing for genetically engineered corn that it hasn’t approved. Meanwhile, the U.S. branch of Aventis announced last week that it had paid millions of dollars to grain elevators and handlers (not to farmers) over its StarLink gene-altered corn debacle.

As far as seed testing is concerned, the Department of Agriculture wants companies to test corn for StarLink contamination before they sell it to farmers for spring planting.

In terms of grain, the Food and Drug Administration issued guidelines on Dec. 27 that require millers to test 2,400 kernels in every truckload of yellow corn. They typically sample fewer than 1,000 kernels per load.

Much of this push for better testing comes in the wake of the StarLink corn contamination episode last year. Aventis last week said that it has shelled out millions of dollars to elevators and handlers because the transgenic corn contaminated their supplies.

Aventis engineered StarLink with the Cry9C protein to resist the European corn borer insect. But because of scientific concerns that the protein might be an allergen, the Food and Drug Administration approved it for use only in animal feed.

Environmental groups discovered traces of the corn in taco shells in September, which spawned a series of recalls. Soon after, the Japanese and South Koreans detected StarLink in their food. They responded by sharply curtailing U.S. corn imports.

Without proper instruction or complete information from Aventis, farmers planted StarLink on more than 340,000 acres. Most of that acreage lies in Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota.

StarLink also has shown up in Missouri corn, though. Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon said last week that Aventis had not done enough to address the fact that StarLink has financially crippled many farmers and grain handlers.

``Aventis has not gone far enough in addressing the concerns of farmers,'' Nixon told Reuters in a telephone interview from his office in Jefferson City. ``Firstly, farmers and grain handlers are not getting paid (by Aventis) in a timely fashion, and secondly, certain people are not getting paid at all.''

What about cases of StarLink tainting non-genetically engineered corn through cross-pollination? Nixon wants to ensure compensation for growers of those traditional corn varieties, as well.

Aventis denied Nixon’s request that it issue a $25 million bond to ensure it had enough money to meet the costs associated with damage from StarLink.

Sources: Reuters, Doane Agricultural Services, BridgeNews