Transgenic StarLink Corn Called Potential Health Hazard

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, August 8, 2001 (ENS) - An independent scientific panel says there is a "medium probability" that a protein in genetically engineered StarLink corn is a human allergen. In a report submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the panel said that because it could not rule out potential harmful effects from exposure to the protein, it would not recommend a minimum tolerance level for StarLink in other foods.

"For the near future, EPA, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will maintain their efforts to divert StarLink corn away from the human food supply," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in a statement.

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This European corn borer moth is one of many pests that attack corn. (Photos courtesy USDA)
StarLink corn, a variety genetically engineered to produce its own pesticide, is not approved for human consumption because it may be a human food allergen. Last year, the nonprofit Genetically Engineered Food Alert showed that StarLink had contaminated the human food supply, forcing the recall of more than 300 food products and costing farmers, food processors and the grain industry millions of dollars in lost profit.

The EPA's scientific advisory panel, convened to evaluate new data regarding the potential for allergic reactions to StarLink corn, has now provided new recommendations to the EPA. The panel's report summarizes the findings of 16 medical experts and scientists who met in a public meeting last month to evaluate the latest scientific information available on StarLink corn.

In their findings, the panel reaffirmed key conclusions from their previous report on StarLink, including that there is a "medium likelihood" that StarLink protein is a potential human allergen, and that there is sufficient evidence that there is a "low probability of allergenicity" in the exposed population based on levels of StarLink in the U.S. diet.

StarLink corn contains Cry9C, an insecticidal protein. StarLink corn was produced by inserting the gene for Cry9C into certain corn hybrids. StarLink technology was developed by Aventis CropScience and its predecessor companies in the 1990s. Aventis CropScience licensed the technology to a number of corn seed companies.

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Insect scientist Larry Chandler checks a corn ear for insect damage.
In its report, the panel stated that, since there is inadequate information to establish a reasonable scientific certainty that exposure would not be harmful to public health, they could not recommend establishing a specific tolerance level for StarLink.

"EPA sincerely appreciates the high level of scientific expertise this panel has provided on this important issue," said Stephen Johnson, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances. "Bringing the best science to the table, and evaluating it in a transparent manner, is fundamental as we continue the important work ensuring protection of public health and maintaining consumer confidence in the integrity of the food supply."

Consumer confidence in genetically engineered foods is currently very low. In June, an ABCNews.com poll found that 52 percent of respondents believed that engineered foods are "not safe to eat."

Just 35 percent of respondents expressed confidence in engineered foods. In contrast, a Gallup poll conducted in summer 2000 showed that 51 percent of respondents believed that engineered foods posed no health hazard.

The complete report from the EPA's scientific advisory panel is available at: http://www.epa.gov/scipoly/sap/

The Aventis Cropscience website on StarLink corn: http://204.148.37.140/What%20is%20StarLink%20corn%20.htm