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Biotech Company Admits StarLink
Contamination is Forever

StarLink Contamination is Forever
Knight Ridder/Tribune
Biotech Firm Executive Says Genetically Engineered Corn Is
Here to Stay
Mar. 19

A top Aventis CropScience executive said Sunday that the food
supply will never be rid of the new strain of corn that the company
genetically engineered at Research Triangle Park.

The executive, John Wichtrich, called for a change in federal
regulations to allow some level of the engineered corn, known as
StarLink, in human food.

The product is now approved only for animal feed and industrial
products such as ethanol.

But the environmental watchdog who first discovered the new
corn in food objected sharply. "Aventis broke the promise of
biotechnology," said Larry Bohlen of Friends of the Earth in
Washington, D.C. "They were supposed to improve the quality
of our food, not cause so many problems and introduce so
much risk."

Wichtrich, general manager of Aventis in RTP, apologized for the
debacle Sunday in a speech to the North American Millers Association
in San Antonio. Wichtrich said that 437 million additional bushels of
StarLink have been found in storage, which is much more than previously
thought. About 50 million bushels of StarLink corn were grown under license
during 2000, and Starlink was inadvertently mixed into another 20 million
bushels.

Last fall, Bohlen discovered StarLink corn in Kraft taco shells at a
Maryland grocery store. The discovery led to a recall of almost 300 food
products. Now, Wichtrich said, "no matter how diligent our collective
efforts are, we can never get to, or guarantee, 'zero.' " Because the
StarLink corn can never be cleaned out of the U.S. food supply, Wichtrich
said, Aventis wants the Environmental Protection Agency to change its rules.

The EPA now has a "zero-tolerance" policy, meaning it views any amount
of the StarLink corn in the U.S. food supply as a violation. One kernel of
StarLink corn in a sample of 2,400 kernels would cause a load of corn to
be rejected, Wichtrich said. EPA should give Aventis an exception or revise
its policy to tolerate a certain level of StarLink in food, he said. But Bohlen
said "Aventis is asking the government to legalize genetic pollution."

Until the Centers for Disease Control finishes its study, no one will
know whether the StarLink corn causes allergic reactions, he said.
CDC is investigating the claims of 44 people who said they got sick
after eating corn products, he said.

Wichtrich said only dry-milled corn products -- those made from corn
meal, grits and flour -- are in danger of being contaminated. Wet milling,
which produces corn syrup and oil, kills the protein, he said. Aventis,
which employs 550 people at its North America headquarters in RTP,
has taken hundreds of angry phone calls from farmers, grain elevator
managers and food processors. Aventis has 87 people working on
rerouting the corn, and another group of scientists looking into the allergy
question, Wichtrich said.

The company has spent tens of millions of dollars to fix the problem, he
said. It has rerouted 28,135 trucks, 15,005 rail cars and 285 barges, he
said. Aventis has said that 384 of the more than 340,000 acres of StarLink
corn are in North Carolina. Wichtrich also said Aventis still plans to spin
off Aventis CropScience as a separate company in summer or early fall.
Bohlen said EPA's answer to Aventis' plea for new rules will shape
national policy on allowing genetically engineered crops into the food we
eat. "This," he said, "is a pivotal moment in the history of
biotechnology."

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