Environmental activists from Greenpeace urged the government to not approve a genetically altered corn called StarLink for human consumption, despite industry claims that it causes no risk to consumers.
In many cases, the amount of StarLink farmers are planting is fairly small, but in some cases, it’s a question of a tiny amount contaminating a larger amount of acceptable corn. In Iowa, Starlink corn represented 1 percent of the total crop, but it has tainted 50 percent of the harvest.
Iowa’s harvest was almost complete when farmers like Gene Turner discovered StarLink had contaminated other corn they had planted.
“We thought these buffer strips would be enough to separate the different corns,” says Turner.
Even though Turner planted StarLink 200 feet away from his regular corn, it still contaminated his entire crop. “I think the whole system failed, “ he says, “because I don’t think anybody was ready for this.”
StarLink was engineered by Aventis CropSicence to be toxic to insects to save farmers from spending money on insecticides. It was approved for animal feed, but not human consumption, because of concerns it might cause allergic reactions.
Don Karwal didn’t plant any StarLink, but pollen from a neighbor’s field contaminated part of his crop. He is left with 5,000 bushels of corn he can’t sell. “Well, I don’t know if it’s a catastrophe,” says Karwal, “but it’s getting there.”
John Klindt, Karwal’s neighbor who planted the StarLink, says his entire crop was contaminated, even though it all looks the same. Klindt says Aventis never warned him to be careful when he planted StarLink.
“The restrictions,” he explains, “they didn’t say very much on that.” No one told him that his corn might contaminate Karwal’s crop.
Half of Iowa’s Crop Spoiled
But it got worse. Farmers who didn’t know their crop was contaminated sold it to grain elevators, where it was mixed with non-StarLink corn. Now officials believe half of Iowa’s crop is contaminated and food processors won’t buy it.
Iowa agriculture officials say the problem is potentially so big, they cannot even estimate what this will cost farmers and grain elevator operators. But they think they know who to blame:
“Aventis has to step up and take care of this problem,” says Iowa’s Attorney General Tom Miller, who leads 16 states pressing the company to compensate farmers and grain elevator operators. He argues Avenits didn’t sufficiently warn farmers of the special requirements for growing and handling StarLink.
“Aventis never should have marketed it,” says Miller. “I think it was irresponsible…It looks like they wanted to sell it too badly.”
And it’s quite probable they don’t know the full extent of this yet. In Iowa they don’t know what will happen to the millions of bushels of corn stored here. But they do know that no one will plant StarLink again anytime soon.