Titel: E.P.A. Rejects Use of a Gene-Altered Corn in Human Food
Datum: 28 juli 2001
Bron: New York Times

E.P.A. Rejects Use of a Gene-Altered Corn in Human Food


The Environmental Protection Agency has decided not to let even trace amounts of genetically modified StarLink corn into human food, officials said yesterday.

The decision follows the release yesterday of a report by an agency advisory panel that concluded that there was not enough evidence to rule out possible allergic reactions, even from small amounts.

StarLink, which was approved for use as animal feed, was found last year to have spread into the human food supply, causing the recall of taco shells and other products. Aventis CropScience, which developed the corn, asked the E.P.A. to allow a low level, known as a tolerance, in human food so that food companies would not have to recall products if even a trace of the corn is detected.

While the E.P.A. has not formally rejected the request from Aventis (news/quote), "We would not grant a tolerance based on what we know today," Stephen L. Johnson, assistant administrator for the office of prevention, pesticides and toxic substances, said in an interview.

A spokesman for food manufacturers lamented the decision. "We think granting a tolerance would have presented a common-sense solution to the dilemma we're in right now," said Gene Grabowski, spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America. He said the food industry's costs of testing incoming corn shipments for StarLink "are going to be passed on to consumers for what we see as no discernable benefit."

Critics of genetically engineered foods said the report confirmed their concerns. "This was Aventis's last straw on trying to convince E.P.A. that StarLink was safe for human consumption, and they were unable to do so," said Matt Rand, a spokesman for Genetically Engineered Food Alert, a coalition of environmental groups.

StarLink contains a bacterial gene that produces a protein that kills pests. That protein, known as Cry9C, has some chemical similarities to known food allergens, though there is no proof that it actually is an allergen.

To try to clear up the uncertainty, the government tested the blood of 17 people who complained of allergic reactions to StarLink. It found no evidence that any of them was allergic to the corn. It also found that the food many of these people ate did not even contain StarLink.

But the E.P.A. advisory panel said the government testing, while reducing the probability that StarLink caused the reactions in those people, "does not eliminate StarLink Cry9C protein as a potential cause of allergic symptoms."

The panel, made up of 16 outside allergy or agricultural experts, said there were numerous inadequacies in the government testing and in the data submitted by Aventis: infants and children with multiple food allergies, who are most likely to be affected, were not tested; the allergy test looked for a reaction to bacterial Cry9C, not the protein made in corn; and the test for Cry9C in processed foods might be unreliable.

The panel reiterated its conclusions of last December that there was a medium likelihood that Cry9C was an allergen based on its biochemical characteristics but only a low probability that it was causing actual allergic reactions because there was only a small amount in the American diet. It recommended further allergy testing.

Aventis did not say yesterday whether it would press its request or abandon it. It issued a statement saying only that it would continue to collect StarLink corn from farms and grain elevators to prevent the corn from entering the human food supply.

Mr. Johnson of the E.P.A. suggested that it would not make sense to press the request because it could take years to determine whether Cry9C is an allergen. By then, he said, StarLink will have disappeared from the food supply because of the containment efforts and because no new StarLink is being grown. He said that the levels of StarLink are dropping so rapidly that even without a tolerance "we're not anticipating major disruptions in the food industry."