ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

7 February 2003


"The Grocery Manufactures of America, the Food Marketing Institute, the National Restaurant Association and seven other food groups said they feared unapproved biotech pharmaceutical crops could seep into the food supply and undermine consumer confidence."

"...nearly half of U.S. farmers said they were undecided or opposed to growing pharmaceutical crops."

1.US food groups urge halt to "bio-pharm" crops
2.US farmers reach $110 million StarLink settlement


1.US food groups urge halt to "bio-pharm" crops

Source - Reuters Securities News (Eng)
Friday, February 07, 2003  05:00
By Randy Fabi

WASHINGTON, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Ten U.S. food industry groups on Thursday urged the government to halt "bio-pharm" crops until it implemented stricter regulations to prevent accidental contamination of other crops.
Concerns about experimental crops grown to produce pharmaceuticals arose in November after a Texas company was accused by the government of mishandling in Nebraska corn spliced with a gene to make a drug to treat diabetes.
Several U.S. consumer advocacy groups have expressed worries about the potential long-term impacts of all bioengineered crops on the environment and human health. There has also been widespread concern in Europe over such crops.
The U.S. food industry has been an outspoken advocate for biotech corn, soybeans and other crops designed to protect growing plants from pests and weeds. But the industry has been less enthusiastic about "bio-pharm" crops.      The Grocery Manufactures of America, the Food Marketing Institute, the National Restaurant Association and seven other food groups said they feared unapproved biotech pharmaceutical crops could seep into the food supply and undermine consumer confidence.

"To minimize the possible risks, a clear system of regulatory enforcement and liability needs to be in place," said Mary Sophos, a vice president of the grocery manufacturers group.

"Until then, no permits for new field trials or for commercialization should be issued by because there is no room for trial and error," she added.  The food industry groups outlined their views in documents submitted to the Food and Drug Administration, which is developing industry guidelines with the U.S. Agriculture Department on planting medicine crops.

Companies should be allowed to grow food plants for medical purposes only when there is no better alternative, the groups said.

The federal government should also require farmers to use separate land and equipment when handling experimental crops. Tests must be readily available to detect any contamination of traditional food crops, the food industry said.  The USDA in December ordered ProdiGene Inc., a small biotech firm, to spend an estimated $2.8 million to buy and destroy some 500,000 bushels of soybeans accidentally contaminated with a small amount of an experimental corn plant engineered to produce trypsin for diabetes.

In a Reuters straw poll of 340 growers last month, nearly half of U.S. farmers said they were undecided or opposed to growing pharmaceutical crops.


2.US farmers reach $110 million StarLink settlement

Source - Reuters Securities News (Eng)
Friday, February 07, 2003  06:48
By K.T. Arasu

CHICAGO, Feb 6 (Reuters) - A group of U.S. farmers reached a $110 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit against two companies that engineered and marketed unapproved genetically modified StarLink corn that slipped into the U.S. food chain more than two years ago, lawyers said on Thursday.

StarLink Logistics and Advanta USA agreed to pay $110 million plus interest to farmers whose crops were tainted with StarLink corn, or who suffered from a drop in corn prices due to the controversy over gene-spliced StarLink corn.

Melvyn Weiss of the law firm Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach LLP said the preliminary settlement was approved on Wednesday by Judge James Moran of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. It still needs final approval.
A source familiar with the case said a hearing date for final approval has been set for April 7. "It's basically to see if anyone objects to the settlement," he said, adding that non-StarLink farmers whose incomes were affected could file a claim for a portion of the settlement.
"This agreement represents an outstanding result in a difficult and hard-fought litigation," said Weiss, who represents the farmers. He declined to elaborate.
StarLink corn is not approved for human consumption for fear it could cause allergic reactions. Japan, the top U.S. corn importer, bans StarLink corn for animal feed as well.
StarLink corn -- spliced with a gene that is deadly to the corn borer pest that causes millions of dollars' worth of damage to the U.S. corn crop -- was planted in less than 10,000 acres when introduced in the United States in 1998.
StarLink plantings grew to 315,000 acres in 2000 but still constituted less than 1 percent of total U.S. corn seedings. Plantings of StarLink were halted in the 2001 season.

Traces of StarLink corn were detected in taco shells in September 2000, leading to a series of recalls of corn-based products from grocery shelves across the country.
StarLink corn was also discovered in food products in Japan, spurring a sharp decline in the country's purchase of American corn supplies. The move triggered steep falls in the prices of U.S. corn.
The plaintiffs in the StarLink case claimed they had suffered financially from a drop in corn prices due to StarLink's detection in food products and the subsequent fall in exports, especially to Japan.

Some had also claimed that their non-StarLink corn crops were tainted by the variety grown in neighboring fields.
A spokeswoman for StarLink Logistics confirmed the deal. "We are pleased to have reached this agreement, which puts much of the liability issues behind us."
A spokesman for Advanta USA, which marketed StarLink seeds to farmers, could not be reached for comment.



The Starlink fiasco started when in October 2000 traces of an Aventis GM corn [maize] called StarLink showed up in taco shells in the U.S. even though it was not approved for human consumption. It led to a massive recall of over 300 food brands. The 'StarLink' gene has also shown up unexpectedly in a second company's corn and in US corn exports. The Starlink fiasco has wide implications for the use of GM crops in farming.

"In Iowa, StarLink corn represented 1 percent of the total crop, only 1 percent. It has tainted 50 percent of the harvest." ABC NEWS  November 28, 2000

"Aventis CropScience Wednesday was at a loss to explain why another variety of corn besides its StarLink brand is producing the [StarLink] Cry9C protein."   United Press International November 22, 2000, Second corn variety producing Cry9C

On the possibility of unintentional mixing of GM and non-GM post-harvest, agronomist Dale Farnham says: "There are no safeguards."

"The US Department of Agriculture claims to know where the maize banned from all food use globally and only recently approved for US exports is located. Aventis, the French firm which developed the genetically modified maize sold throughout the US maize belt in 1999 and 2000, says it knows, also. So do I:  StarLink maize is everywhere." US agricultural journalist Alan Guebert writing in Farmers Weekly, December 8, 2000

Donald White, a University of Illinois plant pathologist, on why US farmers have gone for GM corn:   "...what happens is there is a herd mentality. Everyone has to have a biotech program." White's view chimes in with a University of Iowa study on why farmers were growing GM soya which concluded, "It is interesting to note....that increasing crop yields was cited by over half the farmers as the reason for planting GMO soybeans, yet yields were actually lower".

 US corn exports to big buyers are being hurt: "...traders in Tokyo said on Wednesday the discovery that StarLink`s Cry9C protein had spread to another variety of corn only deepened doubts that U.S. corn can be kept free of genetic modification."

Analyst Dale Gustafson of Salomon Smith Barney:  "We have not yet seen GM wheat. If we did, we would be seeing the same problems in those consumer products."

US corn farmer and GM seed salesman, Nebraska, Dec 2000:  " guys [US Government] created this monster; you clean it up. I have learned my lesson. No more GMO crops on this farm ever." [quoted in UK 'Farmers Weekly' December 8, 2000]

All quotes unless otherwise indicated taken from:  Corn leaving bad taste in world markets as GMO worries build  Reuters, Wednesday -- November 22, 2000

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