Altered genes reach white corn chips Consumer complaint leads to discovery of unapproved strain
Marc Kaufman / Washington Post 4jul01
Washington -- StarLink corn, the genetically modified yellow variety whose presence in food products last fall resulted in widespread recalls, has been found for the first time in a white corn product. The discovery underscores the food industry's difficulties in segregating modified and conventional crops.
The Food and Drug Administration found genetic material from StarLink in Kash N Karry White Corn Tortilla Chips last month in response to a complaint from a consumer in Florida. An FDA official said the agency hadn't requested a recall, but both the Kash N Karry and Food Lion grocery chains pulled the house brand product from their shelves yesterday.
Last fall, many corn chip and tortilla makers switched to white corn -- which makes up less than 3 percent of the American corn market -- to reassure consumers concerned about the possible presence of StarLink in taco shells and corn chips. At the time, producers said the use of white corn eliminated the risk of inadvertently introducing StarLink into their products.
StarLink, genetically modified by Aventis CropSciences to contain a pesticide protein, was never approved for human use because of concerns that it might cause allergic reactions. Recent tests by the FDA, however, found no antibodies to the StarLink protein in 17 people who had complained of symptoms after eating corn products.
The FDA found the StarLink gene in the white corn chips after being notified by Keith Finger, a Florida optometrist who was one of the 17 tested earlier. Finger said his wife had bought the white corn chips after hearing reports that it couldn't contain StarLink. He said he ate some, suffered another, milder reaction and immediately contacted the FDA.
Federal officials couldn't say whether any further tests were planned in Finger's case.
The presence of StarLink in a white corn product illustrates how difficult it is to keep genetically modified crops from spreading. White corn is grown and distributed separately from yellow corn, and industry observers said there were currently no genetically modified varieties. They added, however, that it had proved impossible to prevent some commingling of conventional and modified,
as well as white and yellow, corn. The mixing, they said, could happen at processing plants, during transportation and through cross-pollination in fields.
Thomas Slunecka of the National Corn Growers Association said it wasn't surprising that some of the StarLink genetic material might show up in white corn. "In the real world, we need to set acceptable tolerances for these events rather than demand absolute purity," he said.
Last year, Aventis asked the Environmental Protection Agency to retroactively approve StarLink for human use, a move that would save the company and the corn industry money and headaches. Critics of biotechnology strongly oppose any approval.
If you have come to this page from an outside location click here to get back to mindfully.org