ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
 
Date:  23 November 2000

NEW trouble for Aventis

Further to yesterday’s news that the Starlink gene had now been shown to be present in a non-starlink corn, thanks to Stokely Webster for this update (three articles) on the latest Aventis disaster and for pulling out the amazing press quotes.

Now why was it we awarded Aventis those pants??

Dr Paul Rylott, Seed Manager for AVENTIS UK:
        “...the people that want non-GM can buy non-GM...  The two will not
        get mixed up. Everybody will have the right to choose.”
                    http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/pants2.htm

        “Oh boy, that sure broadens the whole mess”
Gary Alberts of the Iowa Institute for Cooperatives trade group told the Wall Street Journal [commenting on the Aventis announcement that the Starlink gene had now been shown to be present in a non-starlink corn].  [UPI]

Dr Paul Rylott, Seed Manager for AVENTIS UK:
        “OK, we know that cross-pollination will occur but we’ve got thirty
        years of experience to say we know how far pollen will travel
                    http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/pants2.htm

Dr. Norman C. Ellstrand, a professor of genetics at the University of California at Riverside, said the contamination might have occurred during shipment or, perhaps more likely, during the growing season:
             “There’s a possibility they were growing two types of corn too close
               together,” he said. “There was hybridization; that could happen very
                easily if  pollen travels further than expected. It’s like sex.” [NYT]

Judith Jordan, Product Manager for AVENTIS asked, as a witness for the prosecution in the failed Greenpeace court case, whether a fifty meter buffer zone between GM and conventional crops was really sufficient to prevent cross-contamination, replied that pollution in those circumstances was as likely as getting pregnant from a toilet seat.
http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/pants2.htm

Because Aventis is so eager to have the EPA declare StarLink fit for human consumption, some federal officials said yesterday that the new information about Cry9C being found in other corn may be an attempt to bolster the  argument that it is safe for human consumption. “This is a company with an absolutely horrible track record regarding StarLink, and now they are pointing fingers at another corn hybrid with the same gene,” said an administration scientist familiar with the situation.  Aventis faces enormous legal liability because of the StarLink recalls.  “This definitely has to be investigated, but some suspicion is also in order as to why we are learning this right now,” the scientist said.  [WP]

*  *  *
a)    United Press International article
b)    New York Times
c)    Washington Post

a)    Second corn variety producing Cry9C
        by Marcella S Kreiter, United Press International - 22 November 2000

 CHICAGO - Aventis CropScience Wednesday was at a loss to explain why another variety of corn besides its StarLink brand is producing the Cry9C protein. The protein, a suspected human allergen, is the result of a bacteria inserted into corn to produce a toxin to discourage pests. Aventis’ StarLink has been the center of a 2-month-old controversy following the discovery of StarLink in the human food chain. The corn is the only genetically engineered variety that had been approved for animal consumption and industrial uses only.

The discovery has led to the recall of millions of taco shells and tons of corn meal, as well as the widespread testing of corn stored at elevators.  Aventis has been trying to buy up all of the StarLink produced this year and last, and has withdrawn its registration, although it has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to grant a two-year waiver that would allow the StarLink already in the food chain to work its way through without a massive disruption.

“Aventis CropSciencehas confirmed the presence of Cry9C protein in test samples of a variety of corn seed that was not sold under the StarLink trademark,” Aventis said in a release issued late Tuesday. “Aventis CropScience does not know how Cry9C protein came to be present in a variety other than StarLink brand seeds.”

The second Cry9C-producing variety is a 1998 hybrid known as 8481IT, produced by Advanta BV and sold by Iowa-based Garst Seed Co. “Oh boy,” Gary Alberts of the Iowa Institute for Cooperatives trade group told the Wall Street Journal,  “That sure broadens the whole mess.”

Larry Bohlen of the Washington-based environmentalist group Friends of the Earth, which first uncovered the StarLink contamination of taco shells produced by Kraft and sold under the Taco Bell label, said the discovery makes “bio-pollutiona reality.”

“Just like we’ve suffered contamination of the food supply, pollution of the seed supply is another problem created by genetic engineering, “ Bohlen told UPI. “I think a likely source of the seed contamination is cross-pollination.”

Bohlen noted Aventis never said StarLink was sterile and studies in Europe have indicated corn pollen can travel as much as three miles. “If cross-pollination is the problem, then crops are threatened worldwide,” Bohlen said.

Though Cry9C’s danger as an allergen has yet to be evaluated, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating 15 reports of allergic reactions to StarLink.

The latest revelation comes in advance of next week’s EPA hearing on whether StarLink should be granted the waiver. Aventis had been arguing the danger presented from StarLink is small, Cry9C’s presence in the food chain is miniscule and that exposure has been too short to present any real problems. “The presence of the protein in another crop means exposure levels could be much higher and have to be evaluated,” Bohlen said.

Aventis was supposed to keep close track of StarLink and farmers were supposed to be warned to keep the genetically modified corn separate from other stocks. About 40 percent of the StarLink crop, some 350,000 acres, were planted in Iowa.

The crop represents 0.5 percent of the 10.4 billion bushel U.S. corn crop. However, some farmers say they never were warned about the StarLink restrictions and Aventis admits it cannot account for some 4.8 million bushels.

*  *  *
Aventis Says More Genetically Altered Corn Has Been Found
by David Barboza - The New York Times - 22 November 2000

 The Aventis Corporation said yesterday that a genetically altered protein unapproved for human consumption had been discovered in a variety of corn that could be headed toward the nation’s food supply.

The announcement came just two months after Aventis acknowledged that StarLink, a variety of corn that contained the same genetically altered protein, had turned up in taco shells on grocery store shelves. That discovery led Kraft Foods, a division of Philip Morris, to recall millions of taco shells and led to a number of smaller recalls and serious disruptions in the nation’s grain supply system.

Aventis, the biotechnology giant that produced the protein, and the Garst Seed Company, which markets the seeds, said yesterday that they did not know why traces of the genetically altered protein had been found in a traditional variety of corn sold by Garst. The companies also said they did not know whether corn made from those seeds had reached consumers. But the discovery of the protein in a traditional variety of corn is certain to heighten concerns about the safety of genetically altered crops and the agriculture industry’s ability to track the complicated mix of traditional and biotechnology crops from the field to the grocery store.

The protein at issue, Cry9c, was approved only for corn seed sold by Garst under the StarLink label. Corn grown with those seeds was supposed to be used only as animal feed because of concerns that it might cause allergic reactions in humans. But somehow the corn reached large food makers, which used it to make a number of products, including taco shells and corn flakes.

In the wake of the crisis over StarLink corn, thousands of farmers and food companies have begun to test their crops. Yesterday, Aventis CropScience, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., said it had recently tested for the Starlink protein after farmers complained about finding it in their crops, even though they had not bought Starlink corn.

In a statement, Aventis Crop Science said it had notified federal regulators of its findings. The company also said it had no evidence that the protein would cause allergic reactions in humans.
But Aventis said it expected any corn with the Cry9c protein to be shipped to animal feed operators.

A spokesman for Garst, which is based in Slater, Iowa, said the company was trying to determine how a traditional variety of corn it sold had tested positive for Cry9c. Garst said its tests had found “traces” of the Cry9c protein in seeds that were produced in 1998 and were probably planted and harvested in 1999 and 2000. The company said it had not yet found traces of Cry9c in tests of seeds made in the last two years. The company, which declined to disclose how much corn was produced from the 1998 seed, said it was investigating the lots where the seeds were produced, as well as shipping and other possible areas of contamination.

Dr. Norman C.Ellstrand, a professor of genetics at the University of California at Riverside, said the contamination might have occurred during shipment or, perhaps more likely, during the growing season. “There’s a possibility they were growing two types of corn too close together,” he said.
“There was hybridization; that could happen very easily if pollen travels further than expected. It’s like sex.”

*  *  *
Biotech Corn Protein Found in 2nd Variety
by Marc Kaufman , Washington Post Staff Writer - 22 November 2000

: The genetically engineered protein that caused massive recalls of taco shells and other corn products has been found in a second variety of corn, raising questions about how it got there and how much additional corn may have been contaminated.

The company that created the biotech corn, Aventis CropScience, said yesterday that the gene that was spliced into its StarLink corn—Cry9C—had been found in another corn hybrid produced by the company licensed to produce StarLink.

“Aventis CropScience performed the tests after several farmers stated that corn with no known connection to StarLink was testing positive for Cry9C,” the company said in a statement. “Aventis CropScience does not know how Cry9C protein came to be present in a variety other than StarLink brand seeds.”

The seed company that produced and distributed StarLink corn under license from Aventis, Garst Seed Co. of Slater, Iowa, said yesterday that it was notifying farmers who bought the possibly contaminated corn. “We don’t know how many lots might be affected, but we don’t currently think it is substantial,” company spokesman Jeff Lacina said.

Aventis notified federal agencies about the discovery yesterday, and Department of Agriculture officials will meet with Garst and Aventis officials on Monday. “We are aware of the situation, but at this point don’t know what happened and how,” a USDA official said.

The StarLink variety of corn has already raised damaging questions about how crops produced through biotechnology are grown and distributed. Starlink, which is engineered with a gene to protect crops from pests, was approved for use in animal feed. But because it might cause dangerous allergic reactions in some people, it was never approved for human use. Although officials said the risk to the public is low, dozens of products found to contain the corn were recalled as a precaution, costing millions of dollars.

Finding the Cry9C protein in another variety of corn raises new questions about how carefully the biotechnology industry is producing and distributing biotech products. It also raises the possibility that the spread of the gene from StarLink to another hybrid was caused by “gene flow”—the process by which genetic material from one plant is naturally transmitted to others in the field.

The discovery comes at a sensitive time in the StarLink saga, because the Environmental Protection Agency has said it will decide soon whether to retroactively approve the corn for human use. Aventis requested the new review last month, after presenting what it said was new information showing that the Cry9C protein did not cause food allergies. But many critics have attacked the new information as unconvincing.

Because Aventis is so eager to have the EPA declare StarLink fit for human consumption, some federal officials said yesterday that the new information about Cry9C being found in other corn may be an attempt to bolster the argument that it is safe for human consumption.

“This is a company with an absolutely horrible track record regarding StarLink, and now they are pointing fingers at another corn hybrid with the same gene,” said an administration scientist familiar with the situation. Aventis faces enormous legal liability because of the StarLink recalls. “This definitely has to be investigated, but some suspicion is also in order as to why we are learning this right now,” the scientist said.

In a statement, the company said the unapproved gene was found in a Garst hybrid produced in 1998, but Lacina said that corn seeds are sometimes held for several years before being planted.
 

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