Remember StarLink?

USDA just announced its approval of a genetically engineered (GE) corn trait that is unique from other GE traits on the market: it’s engineered specifically for ethanol production (the enzyme breaks down starch into sugar). Once again, no independent study on environmental and food safety impacts was conducted, even though this form of the enzyme alpha amylase may cause food allergies in people who inadvertently consume this corn. Humans have never been exposed to this form of alpha amylase.

We’ve learned from other GE contamination events that complete segregation is impossible.

While numerous contamination events have been documented around the world, no event has received more public attention than the discovery of Aventis’ StarLink corn in the human food supply—a variety not approved for human consumption. In 1999, Iowa farmers planted less than 0.4 percent of their corn to StarLink. By harvest time, half the harvests registered positive for the GE variety.

After this discovery, seed companies, farmers, processors and food makers spent more than one billion dollars trying to eradicate StarLink. Three years after StarLink was found in the food supply and pulled from the market, contaminated grain still pervaded the nation’s corn supply. In 2003, Aventis agreed to pay $110 million to settle claims from corn growers who did not grow StarLink but were hurt by the declining market for U.S. corn because of the contamination. Neil E. Harl, a professor of economics at Iowa State University, estimates that Aventis has paid out more than $500 million to farmers, food processors and grain handlers. Experts agree that it will take years to remove StarLink from the human food supply.

USDA and food industry representatives admit that if the GE corn introduced today — trade name Enogen — enters the food supply, it will negatively impact food quality.

Read the Center for Food Safety’s press release.

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4 Responses to Remember StarLink?

  1. While I am not too keen on industrial-type traits, this article is misleading in its comparison of Starlink to this particular trait. Starlink was not approved for human consumption because at the time they could not prove that the particular Bt protein (Cry9C) was not an allergen. They erred in believing that corn could be kept 100% separate for human food and animal feed. In that case, Starlink caused a regulatory/recall problem because there was a zero-tolerance for the unapproved trait in the human food supply. This situation is different because the amylase is approved for the human food supply, in contrast to Starlink, and it would not cause that kind of recall problem if a small amount got into taco shells.
    I do not yet have an opinion about this trait, but I caution against reactionary responses to new GE traits, especially when the primary source of information being used (CFS) does not accept any GE trait for any amount of research done on it.

  2. Kristina Hubbard says:


    Thanks for clarifying. Do you know if independent testing has been conducted, outside of the manufacturer’s own data, to ensure this form of the enzyme doesn’t pose human health problems? They say Enogen is not to be grown for human consumption, but since complete segregation hasn’t been possible with other corn traits, including StarLink, this is a concern.


  3. I don’t know yet what the total amount of research has been on this trait, and done by who. Right now I’m working on writing about Alfalfa and Beets on Biofortified, and the discussion on this trait is only just getting started:

    I think the main concern with this trait being segregated from the human food supply has to do with its potential effects on the characteristics of the food. I would like to see what (if any) the differences are between the amylase used in this corn is and the other ones that have been used in food so far, so see if there is any merit to the CFS’s suggestion that it is “exotic.” Sometimes temperature tolerances can be caused by a couple changes that just affect the stability of the enzyme.

    It is also important to note that there were no health problems (or allergic reactions) linked to Starlink. There was one guy who claimed to react to it, but he underwent a double-blind allergy test and the doctors found that he did not react to it.

  4. Pingback: Seed Digest (February 5-18, 2011) | Seed Broadcast

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