The Starlink Nightmare

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Even with a brand new crop hitting the fresh spring soil, Fred Yoder, a farmer, hasn't recovered from the Starlink nightmare.

"Every corn grower, whether you're Starlink or not has been affected by it," he said.

Last fall, when Starlink corn was found in taco shells, what followed, by one estimate, was a $1 billion disaster for U.S. agriculture. Fear of a possible allergen in Starlink led to recalls of corn-based foods, from tortilla chips to corn dogs. Exports of corn plummeted and the price of corn itself fell, reports CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

"People like me have lost out," said Yoder.

He says he lost 20 cents a bushel because Starlink flooded the animal feed market after the scandal.

"It's cost me between 10 and 15 thousand dollars and I never planted one kernel of Starlink."

The Starlink Saga
  • How Much StarLink?
  • Nine percent, 22 percent, zero? It depends on which test is used.

  • Life-Threatening Food?
  • Is Starlink to blame for life-threatening allergic reactions?

    Last month came the latest bombshell. Both the EPA and the maker of Starlink, the Aventis company, released studies showing by the time Starlink is processed into corn oil or syrup, none of the suspected allergen remained — zero. In dry foods like tacos only traces remained. In other words, the whole nightmare, and the recalls required by law, may not have been required by science.

    "The science would say that you would not have to go through a recall like this," said Michael Phillips of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

    Phillips says the EPA should now allow trace amounts of Starlink into food. Aventis is formally asking for a 20 parts per billion tolerance, arguing no harm, no foul.

    "We do not believe that there's a human health risk from Starlink corn, mainly because there is no exposure," said Phillips.


    Click here to learn about more about genetically modified foods.


    Environmental groups strongly oppose any Starlink tolerance, calling it genetic pollution, but they find themselves in a battle with corn growers who strongly support a tolerance.

    "It makes no sense whatsoever," aid Yoder.

    He says the reality is tiny pieces of Starlink remain in harvesters and grain bins across the country. 20 parts per billion he says, a handful in a silo, should be perfectly safe.

    "We cannot do zero tolerance. We have to decide that negligible amounts of this can move through the system and be done with it," argued Yoder.

    For farmers, some tolerance of Starlink is a necessary evil. They are still angry with Aventis for the market disruptions, but a tolerance would allow more of this year's crop to be used in food and just might jump-start exports.

    Everyone recognizes the genetic genie is unleashed in the U.S. corn crop, the only question for the EPA is, can a safe level be set? For growers, the reputation of American corn and billions of dollars worth of exports are riding on the EPA's decision.



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    • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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