Washington — Agriculture officials on Thursday told seed dealers to quickly determine how much of the nation's corn seed stocks contain the genetically engineered variety that prompted massive recalls of food and corn crops last year.
The Agriculture Department told the American Seed Trade Assn. to have the results by noon today so officials will know how much seed corn will have to be destroyed and can begin determining how much that will cost and who will pay for it.
Officials said Thursday that the amount of seed corn with detectable amounts of a protein from the genetically modified corn is expected to be small, less than 5 percent of the total. They also said that precautions are in place to ensure farmers don't plant the tainted corn, known as StarLink.
Federal officials met for two hours Thursday at the Department of Agriculture with about 50 representatives from the seed, corn and food industry officials. Agriculture Department spokesman Kevin Herglotz said the meeting focused on testing procedures and how federal agencies could help the seed industry deal with the StarLink issue.
"Our goal is to do what we can to prevent it from being planted," he said.
StarLink, developed by Aventis CropScience and approved only for animal feed, has caused regulatory and economic trouble since biotechnology critics found it last fall in taco shells. Federal agencies had approved StarLink only for animal consumption because of concerns that it might cause dangerous allergic reactions in people, though they have said the human health risks likely are quite limited.
The risks to corn exporters have been great, however, and major crop buyers in Japan and South Korea have cut their purchases of American corn since learning that some of the corn had inadvertently been mixed with corn for human consumption. Consumers in Europe and Japan are especially concerned about possible long-term environmental and health consequences of crop biotechnology.
The discovery of the corn in the human food supply prompted a massive recall of corn and food products made with corn in this country. It was detected in seed by dealers this year as they checked their stocks before selling to farmers for the upcoming growing season.