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Prohibited Gene-Altered Corn Found in Latin American & Caribbean Food Aid Shipments

From: Environmental News Service <www.ens-newswire.com> 2/16/05

Banned as Human Food, StarLink Corn Found in Food Aid
WASHINGTON, DC, February 16, 2005 (ENS)
- More than 70 environmental,
consumer, farmer, human rights groups and unions from six Central American
and Caribbean countries held simultaneous press conferences today to
denounce the presence of unauthorized genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
in food aid distributed by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), and in
commercial imports of food originating mostly from the United States.

StarLink maize was found for the first time in food aid distributed
directly by the WFP. StarLink is banned for human consumption due to
possible allergic reactions to the genetically altered protein it contains.

In total over 50 samples of maize and soy from food aid in Nicaragua,
Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and from commercial imports in Costa Rica
and Dominican Republic were sent to Genetic ID, an independent U.S.
laboratory, to verify whether GMOs were present.

GMOs were found in more than 80 percent of all samples sent to the
laboratory.

Food aid has been identified as the main reason behind the presence of GMOs
in countries of the region. In Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and
Guatemala all samples of food aid sent to the laboratory tested positive for
GMOs.

"The WFP by introducing food aid with GMOs is placing at risk our children
and pregnant women, the most vulnerable people in our society. The GMOs
identified are not authorized in our country and the World Food Programme
must immediately recall them," said Julio Sánchez from Centro Humboldt in
Nicaragua.

"In Nicaragua our farmers produce enough food and the WFP should buy any
needed food within our country, instead of using imported food with
GMOs,"added Sánchez.

The presence of GMOs in the only sample in which GM levels were tested, a
bag from Guatemala, was higher than 70 percent.

StarLink corn contains Cry9C, an insecticidal protein. StarLink technology
was developed by Aventis CropScience and its predecessor companies in the
1990s and licensed to a number of corn seed companies. StarLink corn was
produced by inserting the gene for Cry9C into certain corn hybrids. The gene
that makes the Cry9C protein was isolated from a common soil bacteria, a
strain of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) subsp. tolworthi.

StarLink corn seed was registered and annually renewed for domestic animal
feed and non-food, industrial use in the USA in 1998, 1999 and 2000. The
U.S. registration was withdrawn by Aventis CropScience in mid-October, 2000.

While StarLink is no longer sold as human food, the use of StarLink corn in
livestock feed and industrial, non-food uses is still approved by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In October 2000 the EPA said it "does not have any evidence that food
containing StarLink corn will cause any allergic reaction in people, and the
agency believes the risks, if any, are extremely low."

But the groups in Central America and Carribean are concerned that food
with the Cry9C protein was distributed in their countries. The organizations
requested the WFP to immediately recall all food aid containing GMOs.

"It is not acceptable that a maize which is illegal for human consumption
worldwide is contained in food aid distributed in our country. Finding
StarLink four years after it was banned clearly shows that genetically
modified foods are not under control," said Mario Godinez of CEIBA in
Guatemala.

"The unwanted presence of unlabeled GMOs shows that Costa Rica urgently
needs a ban on GMOs," said Fabián Pacheco of the Social Ecology Association
in Costa Rica. "In order to protect our population it is of utmost
importance now more than ever to act with great caution."

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