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Government Ignoring Likely Hazards of New Genetically Engineered Corn Variety

March 16, 2005

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Government probes new corn variety DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The government is investigating a new genetically modified corn to determine whether it is safe for humans.

The corn variety, developed by Pioneer Hi-Bred International and Dow AgroSciences, is resistant to rootworm. The seed contains a protein that takes longer than other proteins to break down in humans - a characteristic that can cause allergic reactions.

The investigation comes five years after a recall of StarLink corn, a variety that hadn't been approved for human consumption but was found in taco shells and corn chips.

Doug Gurian-Sherman, a former scientist of the Environmental Protection Agency, said the new corn variety shouldn't be approved.

"At this stage, any kind of reasonably cautious approach would say hold off on their protein until we get data that is more definitive," Gurian-Sherman, who worked on the StarLink issue while at the EPA, said.

He now is a senior scientist with the Center for Food Safety, a group critical of agricultural biotechnology.

The EPA believes the corn is safe, as does the Food and Drug Administration. The EPA has formed a panel of scientific advisers who are meeting this week to look into data provided by Pioneer and Dow.

Officials with Pioneer and Dow say there are critical differences between their corn and StarLink, which the EPA approved for animal feed but not human consumption.

The protein in the Pioneer-Dow seed took up to 30 minutes to break down, compared to 30 seconds to five minutes for most similar proteins. By comparison, the protein in StarLink could take several hours to break down. The Pioneer-Dow product would be the second line of biotech corn that is resistant to rootworm. The EPA approved a Monsanto product that is resistant to rootworm in 2003.

Damage from rootworm costs farmers nationwide about $1 billion a year.

Dave Ahlers, who farms near Flandreau, S.D., said his yields increased by up to 10 bushels an acre with the Monsanto seeds.

"I also like how safe it is to handle, compared to the granular insecticides" that farmers traditionally use, Ahlers wrote the EPA. 3/11/2005