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StarLink Contamination Found in Seed

March 01, 2001|From Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Corn seed about to be sold to farmers for this year's crop has been contaminated by small amounts of a genetically engineered variety of the grain that prompted massive recalls of food and crops last year, government and industry sources said Wednesday.

Seed companies detected the contamination while testing their stocks to make sure the seed was free of the modified corn, known as StarLink, which was approved only for animal consumption because of concerns about its safety for humans.

The contamination does not pose any immediate public health threat because none of the seed has been planted. But if the contamination is found to be widespread, farmers and grain exporters fear it could be devastating because major buyers of American corn in Europe and Asia have said they will refuse to buy any corn suspected of being tainted by StarLink. The United States exported $5.6 billion in corn in 1999.

Food and seed industry representatives are scheduled to meet today with officials of three federal agencies that oversee agricultural biotechnology.

"There may be low levels of [the StarLink protein] in some non-StarLink hybrid corn seed," an Agriculture Department official confirmed. Those attending today's meeting will "further evaluate what steps may be necessary to address it."

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