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44 Claim Illness From Eating StarLink Corn

November 29, 2000|JULIE VORMAN | REUTERS

WASHINGTON — Forty-four Americans have complained that they became ill after eating foods containing StarLink bio-corn, but investigators may never be able to pinpoint whether the genetically modified maize was to blame, federal officials said Tuesday.

Scientists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration said they were investigating the claims that Aventis' gene-spliced StarLink corn might have caused rashes, diarrhea, vomiting, itching and life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

"We're continuing to follow these people and are trying to get as much medical information as we can," said Dr. Karl Klontz, an FDA epidemiologist.

In the absence of the specific laboratory tests that the CDC would like to see developed, Klontz presented summaries of the illnesses to a panel of independent scientists. The Environmental Protection Agency asked the group to assess whether StarLink, modified to repel destructive pests, presents a health risk to humans.

StarLink was approved for use only as animal feed in 1998 because of concerns that its special protein might cause allergic reactions in humans. Traces of the corn turned up in taco shells in September, triggering a recall and widespread genetic testing by food manufacturers.

The EPA is now considering whether to grant Aventis temporary approval to use StarLink in human food. The company faces potentially huge liability costs if the agency maintains its restrictions.

Klontz said all 44 cases were reported to the FDA after news reports in September about StarLink contamination. All of the complaints were self-reported, not submitted by a physician or public health official.

The incidents are likely to play an important role in helping the EPA decide whether StarLink and its protein, Cry9C, still pose a health risk.

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