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AGRICULTURE REPORT – July 10, 2001: StarLink Corn Not Linked to Allergies - 2001-07-09

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Recently, American government scientists completed an investigation of a product called StarLink corn. StarLink is the only genetically-engineered crop grown in the United States that is not approved for human use.

The scientists said they found no evidence that StarLink corn had made anyone sick. Reports said the announcement could help reduce public concern that the corn represents a threat to human health.

A company called Aventis CropScience developed StarLink corn. Scientists developed the corn by a process of genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is the technology of changing the genes of living things. The changed gene directs the plant or other organism to do things it normally does not do.

StarLink is among several kinds of genetically-engineered corn designed to resist insects. Three years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency approved StarLink corn as food for animals. However, E-P-A officials expressed concern that a protein in StarLink might cause allergic reactions in people.

Groups opposed to genetic engineering have been testing food products for StarLink. Last year, tests showed it was present in some corn products for people. The makers of the corn products ordered their return.About fifty people told the Food and Drug Administration they had allergic reactions after eating products they thought contained the corn. In the new study, officials from the Centers for Disease Control questioned some of the people who reported allergic reactions.

Scientists from the C-D-C and the F-D-A tested the blood of seventeen of the people. The scientists tested the blood for substances called antibodies. The presence of antibodies would show a reaction to the protein in the corn that was considered the possible allergen. No such antibodies were found.

The C-D-C said the tests did not find any evidence that extreme sensitivity to the protein caused an allergic reaction. An independent laboratory confirmed the findings.

Critics of genetic engineering say the investigation was too limited to show that the corn is safe. But a group that represents the biotechnology industry praised the findings.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.