An unapproved form of Bt insect-resistant corn has
been found in Taco Bell taco shells sold in grocery
stores, reported the Washington Post on Sept. 18, 2000.
StarLink corn, produced by Aventis Corp., has been approved
in the U.S. for animal feed but not for human food.
StarLink corn varieties contain the Cry9C form of the
Bt gene, which is considered a potential allergen in
some people although EPA believes the risks, if any,
are extremely low. The Food and Drug Administration
has begun an investigation. The Washington Post article
is available at http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A24834-2000Sep17.html
On September 22, Kraft Foods, distributor of the taco
shells, announced a recall of the product from grocery
On September 29, Aventis announced it will purchase
this year's entire crop of Starlink corn, to prevent
any further use of the corn in food products.
On October 12, EPA announced that Aventis is canceling
the U.S. registration of StarLink corn, meaning that
it can no longer be planted for any agricultural purpose.
On October 25, Aventis asked EPA to temporarily allow
the use of StarLink corn for human consumption, because
it has already shown up in many food products. To support
its request, Aventis provided new data that the Cry9C
protein in StarLink corn is not a human allergen. The
data reportedly show that the protein did not elicit
allergic reactions when tested on blood of persons susceptible
to food allergies; and that the protein was digested
in stomach acids faster than previously thought. (Source:
New York Times).
On November 3, USDA announced plans to test corn shipments
bound for Japan for the presence of StarLink grain.
The move was taken to reassure consumers in Japan, the
largest importer of U.S. corn. (Source: Associated Press).
On November 21, Aventis CropScience confirmed that
the Cry9C protein was present in corn hybrids having
no known connection to StarLink varieties. The hybrids
are produced by Garst Seed Co. of Slater, Iowa, which
also produces StarLink seed under contract with Aventis.
USDA officials are working with the companies involved
to investigate the mixup.
Aventis has set up a web site to provide information
on the StarLink situation, including estimates of StarLink
acreage in 2000 by state and county: http://www.starlinkcorn.com
Dec. 5. An EPA-appointed Scientific Advisory Panel
concluded that the StarLink protein (Cry9C) has a medium
likelihood of causing allergic reactions in humans.
This conclusion is based on the biochemical properties
of the protein itself, rather than its levels in the
food supply. The panel felt that the apparent low level
of Cry9C in the human diet made it unlikely that persons
have been sensitized to the protein. More information
and a link to the entire report are available at EPA's
Biopesticide web site (http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides/).
Dec. 28. Because Cry9C protein has been found in several
varieties of non-StarLink hybrid corn, the USDA recommended
that U.S. seed companies test all their corn seed lots
for the presence of Cry9C protein. These seeds should
not be sold as planting seed, but can be used as feed
and for non-food industrial purposes. Seed companies
should provide their customers, upon request, with verification
that the seed lots they buy for planting have been tested
for Cry9C protein. Seed companies should also test their
parent lines of corn before using them to produce seed
for next year, the USDA said. Official sampling and
testing recommendations can be found at http://www.usda.gov/gipsa/biotech/starlink/cry9cdetection.htm.
Jan. 23, 2001. Farmers whose non-transgenic crops
were found to contain the StarLink Cry9C protein will
be compensated for losses they may incur, under an agreement
signed by Aventis and the attorneys general for 17 corn-producing
states. The signatory states, Iowa, Alabama, Illinois,
Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota,
Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio,
Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, include nearly
all of the areas in which StarLink corn was planted.
The agreement lends legal enforceability to Aventis's
previously announced StarLink Enhanced Stewardship program
for compensating farmers. An announcement by the Iowa
attorney general is available at http://www.state.ia.us/government/ag/StarLink_binding_agt_rel.htm.
Details of the StarLink Enhanced Stewardship program
are available at http://www.starlinkcorn.com.
February 2001: The president, general counsel, and
vice president for market development of the U.S. crop
sciences division of Aventis CropScience have been fired.
A spokesperson for Aventis said it was fair to link
the firings to the StarLink fiasco. A story on the dismissal
of the three executives is available at http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,437347,00.html.
On March 1, 2001, the American Seed Trade Association
presented the USDA with an estimate of the percent of
corn seed contaminated by the StarLink Cry9C protein.
The tainted seed was found in inventories slated to
be sold to corn farmers this spring. There is concern
that U.S. corn exports will suffer again this year if
the crop contains traces of the Cry9C protein. Stories
on the estimates are available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A10054-2001Mar1.html
The USDA and farmers' organizations have been calling
for seed sellers to test their supplies and for farmers
to insist on StarLink-free seeds in an effort to avoid
perpetuation of the Cry9C gene in the corn supply. The
National Corn Growers Association is urging farmers
who planted StarLink corn last year to rotate to another
crop or to plant herbicide-tolerant corn this year.
Both options would allow growers to find and kill "volunteer"
StarLink corn that grows from kernals left in the field
at harvest last year. The NCGA's recommendation is available
On March 7, 2001, the USDA announced that it would
buy Cry9C-tainted corn seed from small seed companies
that are not affiliated with Aventis and were not licensed
to sell StarLink corn last year. Major seed companies
and companies licensed to sell StarLink will not be
compensated. The USDA said less than 1 percent of the
corn seed supply is affected and the buyback will not
affect the price or availability of seed. The USDA expects
to buy between 300,000 and 400,000 bags of seed, at
up to $50 per bag, for a potential cost of up to $20
million. The USDA announcement is available at http://www.usda.gov/news/releases/2001/03/0042.htm.
A Washington Post story on this development is available
On March 18, 2001, an Aventis executive estimated
the amount of corn contaminated with the StarLink Cry9C
protein to be 430 million bushels, far more than the
amount of contaminated corn seed that will be bought
by the U.S. government to prevent its being planted
this spring. About 20 million bushels of corn in fields
neighboring on licensed StarLink fields were contaminated
in 2000. Aventis general manager John Wichtrich said
most of the 430 million contaminated bushels were stored
in grain elevators after the 1999 harvest. Wichtrich
suggested that Aventis will set up testing stations
at grain mills to ensure that the Cry9C protein does
not appear in milled corn. A Washington Post news story
on this subject is available at http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A20105-2001Mar17.html.
On March 19, 2001, the FDA was reported to be nearly
ready to administer allergenicity blood tests to people
who have reported suspected allergic reactions after
eating StarLink corn. A news story is available at http://news.excite.com/news/ap/010319/13/biotech-corn.
On April 23, 2001, Aventis CropScience asked the EPA
to set a legal limit of 20 parts per billion of StarLink
corn in grain loads delivered to mills. The request
marks a reversal from last fall, when the company asked
that StarLink be accepted without limit in grain destined
for human consumption. StarLink is currently not allowed
in human food because of its potential for causing allergic
reactions. Stories on this development are available
The Aventis request and several volumes of data from
tests commissioned by Aventis are available on the EPA's
web site at http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides/otherdocs/stlink/stlinkdata.htm.
On June 11, 2001, the Centers for Disease Control released
its finding that the transgenic protein in StarLink
corn probably was not the cause of the apparent allergic
reactions that have been attributed to it by people
who suffered symptoms shortly after eating corn products.
StarLink corn, containing the Bt Cry9c transgene, had
been approved for animal feed but not for human consumption
because of concerns that it might cause allergic reactions.
Allergenicity was not demonstrated before approval of
StarLink for release, but the Cry9c protein exhibited
several properties of known food allergens. Despite
the ban on use of StarLink for food, the transgene was
detected in commercial food products and 51 people complained
that their allergy symptoms were caused by eating StarLink-laced
food. Using an IgE-specific ELISA test, the CDC did
not find any reactivity in serum samples from the 17
people who participated in the testing. A story in the
Washington Post is available at
The CDC's report is available at http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehhe/Cry9cReport/.
On July 3, 2001, stores removed from their shelves
a brand of tortilla chips made from white corn because
traces of StarLink corn were found in it. Makers of
tortilla chips have been switching to white corn as
a precaution because the Bt Cry9c transgene was incorporated
only into a yellow corn variety. Avoidance of yellow
corn was believed to eliminate the presence of the StarLink
protein, which has been found widely, at low levels,
in stores of corn destined for human consumption. A
story in the Washington Post is available at http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16045-2001Jul3.html.
On July 19, 2001, the Associated Press reported that
scientists in Japan had conducted tests on the safety
of animal feed containing StarLink corn and had found
no problems in pigs raised on the feed. Twenty pigs
were fed a diet of 70% StarLink corn. After slaughter,
the meat, organs, and blood of the pigs was examined.
Neither the StarLink DNA nor the StarLink protein was
detected in the samples.
On July 27, 2001, the panel of scientists who have
been advising the EPA on the safety of StarLink corn
declined to recommend lifting the ban on human consumption
of the corn, saying they were not yet satisfied that
the transgenic product is safe. Data provided by Aventis,
the company that developed StarLink, were insufficient
to determine the maximum safe level of exposure, the
panel said. Aventis maintained that StarLink protein
was degraded by wetting and heating, so that commercially
processed foods and foods prepared in the home by mixing
and baking would contain only low levels of the intact
protein. The advisory panel suggested that higher levels
of the protein might still be present and capable of
causing allergic reactions, but might be undetectable
via current tests, if wetting and heating changed the
shape of the molecule. Although the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention did not find evidence that the
StarLink protein had caused allergic reactions in people
who reported adverse health effects from eating corn-based
products, the scientists on the panel said the CDC's
test might not be sufficiently sensitive. The government
should pursue further research on the allergenicity
of StarLink, including encouraging physicians to report
possible reactions to the protein, they said. The panel
noted that the government's estimate last winter of
about 0.4% StarLink in the nation's human food supply
was probably an overestimate and that aggressive actions
by the government and by Aventis had reduced the amount
to less than 0.125%. The scientific panel's full report
is available at http://www.epa.gov/scipoly/sap/2001/july/julyfinal.pdf.
A story on this development is available on the Washington
Post web site at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62091-2001Jul27.html.
In December 2002, Japan's Agriculture Ministry reported
that it had found traces of StarLink corn in a shipment
of U.S. corn that docked at Nagoya harbor. USDA officials
say they believe the last stocks of StarLink corn were
destroyed last year. News reports on the reported discovery
are available at http://18.104.22.168/agnet/2002/12-2002/agnet_december_27.htm#JAPAN
FIRM CLUELESS and http://22.214.171.124/agnet/2003/1-2003/agnet_january_6-2.htm#JAPAN
In September 2003, a coalition of groups from several
regions of Mexico reported that the GM gene from StarLink
corn, along with the GM genes from other types of GM
corn, had entered the native corn populations of Mexico.
The samples from nine Mexican states contained
- Bt-Cry1ab/1ac, the gene commonly used in insect-resistant
- Bt-Cry9c, the gene used in StarLink corn, which
is banned for human consumption in the United States
and which was taken off the market in 2000 after tests
revealed that it was present in supermarket foods,
- CP4 EPSPS, the gene that provided resistance to
glyphosate herbicides such as RoundUp.
The samples showing the presence of GM genes came
from the states of Chihuahua, Morelos, Durango, Mexico
State, Puebla, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi, Tlaxcala, and
Veracruz. The commercial cultivation of any kind of
GM corn is prohibited in Mexico because of concerns
about gene flow to Mexico's indigenous corn varieties,
but GM corn kernels can be imported for use as food.
A press release on this discovery is available at http://126.96.36.199/agnet/2003/10-2003/agnet_oct_14-2.htm#story3.
In November 2003, scientists reported that additional
tests had failed to demonstrate the presence of an allergy
in a person who had complained of allergic reactions
to StarLink corn. The person was fed StarLink corn,
non-StarLink corn, and a placebo on different days under
conditions in which neither he nor the technicians who
provided the food knew which kind he was receiving.
The person did not experience allergic reactions on
any of the days of testing. A report on the tests is
available at http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/10/business/10cornxx.html.