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EPA Advisory Panel Sees Direct Evidence of StarLink Allergic Reaction

EPA Advisory Panel Sees Direct Evidence
of StarLink Allergic Reaction

Witness tells scientists biotech corn to blame for allergic reaction
By PHILIP BRASHER, AP Farm Writer

Scientists considering whether a variety of biotech corn should be
allowed into the food supply heard from a Florida optometrist that he's
allergic to the grain despite a negative government blood test.

Keith Finger showed the panel pictures of welts and rashes he says he
suffered Sunday after he ate a mixture of StarLink corn and water. He
says he earlier had allergic reactions to tortilla chips that tested
positive for the corn.

"The itching was horrible," Finger told the scientists Tuesday.

A member of the panel, Dean Metcalfe, an allergy specialist at the
National Institutes of Health, said symptoms like Finger's would be
sufficiently convincing for a doctor to order tests to tell whether he
was allergic to the corn.

Finger is among 17 people whose blood the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention tested in the spring for sensitivity to a special protein
in the corn. The tests were negative. Like Finger, all the 17 people had
reported allergic reactions after eating corn products.

Some of the scientists questioned the effectiveness of the test and why
the government had not sought out more potential victims by contacting
doctors around the country. Federal officials said they lacked the money
for wider-ranging tests.

Discovery of the corn in taco shells last fall led to nationwide recalls
of corn products. The corn has been withdrawn from the market, but the
crop's developer, Aventis CropScience, is asking the Environmental
Protection Agency to allow a minimal amount in the food supply to avoid
further recalls.

The scientific advisers are deciding whether the agency should set a
maximum level for the corn of 20 parts per billion.

The scientists are not expected to issue their recommendation for a
week.

A special protein in the corn, called Cry9C, breaks down slowly in the
digestive system, an indication that it might induce allergic reactions.
However, scientists say people would have to be exposed to the protein
repeatedly to become sensitive to it.

StarLink is among several varieties of corn genetically engineered to
produce their own pesticides. StarLink corn was supposed to have been
grown and handled separately from other grain, but farmers often failed
to do so.

The Agriculture Department reported Tuesday that it had accounted for
all but 720,000 of the 128 million bushels of StarLink corn. Another 4.9
million bushels may have been mixed with grain that went to food
processors.

Steve Gill, a USDA official, said most of the corn should have been
caught in testing by processors and shippers.

In a report to the scientists, EPA says the actual levels of StarLink in
U.S. corn supplies range from 0.34 to 8 parts per billion, depending on
the method used to make the estimate.

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