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Farmers, environmentalists ask USDA to block marketing of moldy corn while industry disputes concerns

(Thursday, Oct. 10, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- Midwestern farmers and environmental organizations want Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to stop the marketing of certain corn varieties produced by Garst Seed Co. that contain a toxic mold until tests determine whether they caused infertility in hogs and cattle in midwestern states.

A USDA spokeswoman says that responsibility for investigating the corn lies with the Food and Drug Administration, which reportedly is doing just that.

Although the corn, genetically engineered to express the insecticidal bacterium bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), is supposed to better resist molds than conventional corn, tests show it contains high levels of fusarium mold, which can sicken humans and livestock.

Source: Associated Press

See full story at:http://www.checkbiotech.org/root/index.cfm?fuseaction=news&doc_id=3952&start=1&control=120&page_start=1&page_nr=101&pg=1 Meanwhile... Biotech Industry Disputes Corn Claims

(Thursday, Oct. 10, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- Associated Press: Researchers and biotech companies dispute farmers' and environmentalists' claims that some Midwestern animals became infertile after eating a corn suspected of containing toxic mold.

Gary Munkvold, an Iowa State University plant pathologist, said Wednesday that tests he and veterinarians conducted determined that the corn was not the culprit.

The corn tested in Iowa had low levels of mold which weren't elevated enough to raise concerns that the grain was a problem, he said.

Researchers concluded that the way farmers handled and fed the animals probably caused some animals to become sterile, Munkvold said. ``In swine herds, it's not uncommon for reproductive problems to occur,'' he said.

Environmentalists and farmers said they fear the biotech corn produced by Garst Seed Co. could taint the food supply if it's allowed onto the market. They are asking the Agriculture Department to hold the corn for further testing.

Garst Seed officials say their tests showed the corn was safe, but Agriculture Department researchers suspect the corn contains harmful molds.

At issue is a corn known as Bt, genetically altered to resist crop pests. Researchers and the industry said studies show the corn usually has low mold levels.

To link infertility in animals to the Bt trait ``is probably unfair,'' said Bryan Hurley, a spokesman for St. Louis-based Monsanto, a biotech company.

Hurley said corn can become moldy when it's stored inside damp buildings.

The industry criticized the environmental group, Friends of the Earth, saying it is spreading misinformation about the corn.

Lisa Dry, a spokeswoman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said the group is frightening people by saying that potentially moldy corn could end up in food products.

``The statement from Friends of the Earth is kind of an opportunistic effort,'' Dry said. ``I believe it's somewhat irresponsible because ... you have people out there who are dependent on this corn for food and feed.''

Friends of the Earth spokesman Mark Helm said the group was trying to protect the public's health and the environment.

``There's nothing we said that is alarmist,'' Helm said. ``All we've said is take a look at this. We have a concern.''

Jerry Rosman, a Harlan, Iowa-based farmer, alerted the Agriculture Department to problems with the corn after hogs at his farm and others in the area became sterile. He said documents of tests and veterinarians' letters show the grain needs to be tested until scientists are certain it is safe.

``We're working with grains here that are supposed to have lower mold counts than usual and they're getting higher every year,'' said Rosman. ``We're just pushing and trying here to get groups to act.''

Rosman said about a dozen farmers from Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota have come forward saying they had similar problems with the corn.

He said they don't want to speak out, though, because they won't be able to sell their crop.