ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

Date:  2 December 2000


For Immediate Release - 1 December 2000
Contact: Melissa Merz(202) 224-7028


Chicago U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, today said a review by his office of a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documents that conventional corn was contaminated by a genetically engineered protein known as StarLink in 1997 and was reported to EPA in 1998.

"Two years ago, test reports for StarLink corn showed that some conventional corn had become contaminated with substances that should only have been present in genetically engineered corn," Durbin said.

"Yet, federal agencies took no action that I am aware of to remedy this. Now after environmental groups revealed the presence of StarLink corn in the food supply, a second company Garst Seed Co. recently revealed it has found StarLink protein in samples of its 1998 seeds. This is clear
evidence that the system is flawed."

Durbin said enactment of two bills he has proposed, to require mandatory reviews of genetically engineered foods before they are marketed and to create a single food safety agency, could lead to a more aggressive approach to preventing contamination and better coordination among federal agencies involved in food safety.

Recent contamination of taco shells with a small percentage of StarLink corn approved only for animal feed generated headlines around the world, disrupting the domestic and international marketplace for corn and hurting U.S. and Illinois farmers.

In recent weeks, Durbin has written to three federal agencies, including EPA, USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to find out the agenciesí knowledge of StarLink corn.

In his letter to EPA, he asked EPAís explanation for the contamination found during the original trial of StarLink corn in 1998. In his letter to USDA, Durbin asked if USDA knew of the possible contamination, and in his letter to FDA, he asked for an explanation of the inconsistent data
regarding the degree of risk associated with StarLink.

"The lack of action in 1998 is strong evidence that these agencies are not in contact. If EPA had talked to USDA two years ago, the three  agencies may have been able to head off the most recent contamination problems," Durbin said. "From a legislative perspective, we need to make
some serious changes to the nationís food safety system."

Durbin has proposed legislation, the Genetically Engineered Food Act, to make FDA approval a requirement before any genetically engineered food is allowed into the marketplace. Currently, federal review of genetically engineered foods is solely on a voluntary basis. The legislation also would establish a multi-agency registry to bring information about genetically engineered foods together in one place.

The Illinois senator also has introduced a bill to create a single food safety agency. Currently, at least 10 federal agencies are involved in the food safety system.

"The recent announcement that the Garst seed corn sold to farmers was contaminated with StarLink makes this situation even more troubling," Durbin said. "We are looking at a serious breakdown in the system for keeping restricted biotech crops separate from conventional foods. The public needs to know what actions the agencies and Congress are going to take to prevent any future problems with biotech crops and farmers need to know they are not being asked to risk an uncertain market for the foods they grow."


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