More than 100 consumer, agriculture and environmental groups from around the world called on U.S. President George Bush today to suspend further exports of U.S. corn and corn products unless the U.S. government can guarantee that they are free of genetically engineered StarLink corn and safe for human consumption. In their joint letter to President Bush, the groups also called on the U.S. to recall all food products, commercial grain imports and food aid contaminated by StarLink.
“The U.S. should not be exporting genetically contaminated food to other countries,” said Ricardo Navarro, Chair of Friends of the Earth International and a resident of El Salvador. “If it is not approved for people to eat in the U.S. then it should not be sent elsewhere.”
Concern has risen with the announcement on March 18th by Aventis, the giant biotechnology company that created StarLink, that contamination is wider spread than thought. While 70 million bushels (1.8 million metric tonnes) of corn from the 2000 harvest were contaminated, Aventis reported an additional 430 million bushels (11 million metric tonnes) in storage from 1999 are also contaminated. The bacterial protein engineered into StarLink to make it toxic to pests has also been found in seeds of other varieties of corn prior to the 2001 planting season prompting a $20 million U.S. government program to find and destroy them. The contamination is likely due to a failure to prevent cross-pollination.
The possible health impacts of StarLink are still unresolved. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control are still investigating 48 reports of unexplained allergic reactions that occurred after people ate corn products. The health complaints about StarLink are the first lodged by consumers against an engineered food.
The U.S. continues to export corn that is contaminated with StarLink to Asia and possibly to other regions. Although StarLink was found in the U.S. food supply on September 18th, 2000, Japan reports repeated findings of StarLink as recently as February and a contaminated Kellogg Company food product was found in the U.S. in March.
“The discovery of StarLink in Japan and South Korea, two of the largest purchasers of U.S. corn, means this genetically modified corn could be elsewhere. Since the U.S. government and the Aventis biotech company have not controlled the contamination, other countries should not permit the import of any U.S. corn or corn-based products until they are guaranteed to be clean” said Meena Raman, a resident of Malaysia and Asia coordinator for the Friends of the Earth International GMO Programme.
Groups in developing countries are also expressing concerns that StarLink may be shipped as food aid in a desperate movement to get rid of StarLink. Over two million tons of GMOs are sent directly by U.S. foreign assistance to developing countries, while the World Food Program distributes another one and a half million tons of transgenic crops donated by the U.S. government (1). “We are strongly opposed to any shipment of StarLink as food aid. It is outrageous to think that the U.S. may be using food aid as a back door market for products like StarLink,” said Karin Nansen a resident of Uruguay and Latin American coordinator for the Friends of the Earth International GMO Programme.
StarLink is not approved for human consumption in the U.S. because the bacterial protein engineered into the corn by the giant biotechnology company Aventis has “characteristics of known allergens” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The discovery of StarLink in food products has driven many U.S. food companies to recall raw grain and more than 300 products made with U.S. yellow corn, both in the U.S. and in countries that import from the U.S. But, contaminated products are still appearing.
“The StarLink case clearly shows that biotech companies do not control their genetically modified inventions. Once they are released into the environment they are nearly impossible to call back,” said Larry Bohlen of Friends of the Earth U.S.
Impacts of StarLink on U.S. corn exports are beginning to show. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Brazil recently became a net exporter of corn for the first time since 1982 as foreign buyers turn their backs on the U.S. looking for sources of non-engineered corn.
For a copy of the StarLink letter to President Bush with 100 signers listed, see:
www.foei.org, or www.foe.org/safefood
For the list of commercial food products that have been recalled, see:
www.fda.gov/opacom/Enforce.html, search term StarLink
Asia: Meena Raman, Sahabat Alam Malaysia, 60-4-8905846 (Malaysia)
Central America and South America: Ricardo Navarro, Friends of the Earth International, 503 2206479 (El Salvador) and Maria Selva Ortiz, Uruguay, FoE Uruguay, 598 632 20800 (Uruguay)
Europe: Gill Lacroix, Friends of the Earth Europe, 32-2-542-0182 (Belgium)
North America: Larry Bohlen, Friends of the Earth U.S., 01-202-783-7400 ext. 251
(1) Food First. 2000. Food aid in the new millennium (http://www.foodfirst.org)