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StarLink Found in White Corn Chips Food - detected by allergic reaction

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Source: LA Times.

StarLink Found in White Corn Chips Food: The genetically modified variety is not approved for human use. Find highlights difficulty in segregating crops.

By MARC KAUFMAN, Washington Post

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 didn't request a recall, but both the Kash n' Karry and Food Lion grocery chains pulled the house-brand product from their shelves Tuesday.

Last fall, many corn chip and tortilla makers switched to white corn--which makes up less than 3% 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 it might cause allergic reactions. Recent FDA tests, however, found no antibodies to the StarLink protein in 17 people who had complained of symptoms after eating corn products.

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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 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 additional 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 are currently no genetically modified varieties. They added, however, that it's proven 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 Assn. 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, and say it would reward a company that had promised to keep StarLink out of the human food chain but failed.

An EPA advisory panel will meet in Washington this month to review new StarLink information and recommend whether to grant Aventis' request.

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times

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