PANNA: Illegal Genetically Engineered Starlink Corn Contaminates Food Aid
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
The Bolivian Forum on Environment and Development (FOBOMADE), a citizens' group in Bolivia, announced that a sample of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) food aid tested positive for the presence of StarLink genetically engineered corn, a variety not approved for human consumption due to health concerns. The group expressed outrage that more than a year after StarLink was found in the U.S. food supply it has appeared in food aid. They criticized the USAID and the World Food Program and demanded that genetically engineered crops not be sent as food aid to countries that have not formulated biosafety regulations. They also emphasized the critical need to protect the birthplaces of corn from genetic contamination.
This is the first time that StarLink has been found in food aid and the first time it has been found outside the U.S., Japan and Korea since originally detected in the U.S. in August 2000. All test results were confirmed using DNA analysis conducted by Genetic ID, an independent laboratory located in Iowa.
StarLink was not approved for human consumption due to a finding by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the insecticidal protein the corn was engineered to produce exhibits "characteristics of known allergens." Possible health effects of this category of allergen include nausea and anaphylactic shock, but are not currently known due to a lack of adequate testing by government and industry. The corn was originally found by Friends of the Earth and the Genetically Engineered Food Alert coalition in taco shells manufactured by Kraft Foods.
As a result of the contamination, the U.S. government recalled over 300 food products and more than 200 people reported illnesses that were possibly related. EPA concluded one year after the discovery that no level of StarLink could be determined to be safe for human consumption. The manufacturer of the corn, Aventis, appealed to the EPA to allow a tolerance level for StarLink in food, but was denied. The company has since been mired in multiple lawsuits and has sold its agricultural biotechnology division to Bayer.
The sample sent for testing by FOBOMADE also contained two other types of engineered corn not approved in the European Union (EU)--RoundUp Ready and BtXtra, both produced by Monsanto.
In Guatemala, Colectivo Madre Selva, a citizens' group tested a sample of seed sent as food aid and found three varieties of engineered corn not approved in the EU--Liberty Link produced by Aventis and Monsanto's BtXtra and RoundUp Ready.
Centro Humboldt, working with other members of the Network for a GMO-Free Nicaragua, obtained samples of the seeds from different parts of the country. One seed sample contained 3.8% of a genetically engineered variety approved in the U.S. and the EU, and three samples of a corn and soy flour blend contained Monsanto's RoundUp Ready corn.
In a news release dated May 24, 2002, the World Food Program declared that "The WFP does not distribute food that is not acceptable for human consumption by the citizens of the producing countries (donor countries) and by the countries that receive the food assistance." The three largest funders of the World Food Program are the U.S. (US$796 million per year), Japan (US$260 million) and the European Commission (US$118 million). In 2000, Dan Glickman, then Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said that the agency would make sure StarLink did not enter food aid.
Food aid with genetically modified seed may result in cultivation of genetically engineered corn in the regions that are considered the birthplaces of corn, creating a form of biological pollution that cannot be recalled. Commercial imports of corn seed for food to Mexico has recently been reported as a likely pathway threatening native Mexican varieties.
PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.