Ten years ago, Nebraska farmers worked their way through corn harvest, hauled off 1.15 billion bushels to sale or storage, and put their grain-gathering equipment away for the winter.
It all seemed normal enough.
But normalcy started to unravel the next summer, when a genetically modified variety of corn called StarLink turned up in Taco Bell taco shells and then in loads of corn delivered to grain elevators and other delivery points in the state.
The trouble, in the early days of biotechnology, was that StarLink was not approved for human food use. It was not supposed to be in food-processing plants and it was not supposed to be co-mingled with the supply of conventional corn.
And trouble quickly rolled up to the front door of the Lincoln Inspection Service, licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to do grain quality tests in Southeast Nebraska.
Corn purchasers scrambled to find corn not contaminated with StarLink.
“It was a complete fiasco here, you might say,” said Carolyn Buckmaster, now in her 29th year in a Garfield Street laboratory. “It was a very terrific workload.”
Traces of the footprint left by one of the biggest food-safety stories of the decade remain in 2009.
It’s been nine years since StarLink was pulled from the seed-corn market and five since the last StarLink-contaminated corn turned up in Lincoln.