Biotech industry deserves mistrust after corn release

The biotechnology industry has taken a healthy kernel of public trust in this country and ground it into fine flour.

At the most recent count, some 300 consumer products had been contaminated with a type of genetically modified corn not approved for humans. It is appalling that the seed producer, Aventis CropScience, failed to ensure that the corn would be confined to animal use, as intended.

The rest of the industry can only thank its lucky stars that there has been no public panic. Indeed, the odds appear to be on the side of the corn being safe. It is encouraging that there has been no showing of any human health problems from the release of StarLink biotech corn into food products. Experts, however, still have some reason to fear that the corn could cause allergic reactions in humans. That unresolved question is why StarLink was only supposed to be grown as animal feed.

The government was clearly too trusting when it approved the release of corn that it didn’t consider proven safe for humans. Three agencies all went along with the goofy scheme. The Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture all approved StarLink. And other biotech companies apparently thought that was fine.

Oops. Farmers have reportedly said they were never even told that the StarLink corn wasn’t supposed to be used by humans. That should be clear evidence to regulators that they can never again approve release of seed for a crop that isn’t considered safe for humans. Trust was given— and it has been lost.

Unfortunately, the failure extends beyond U.S. borders. Japan recently found the corn in an imported snack product. On Monday, the Friends of the Earth, a respected environmental group, reported finding the corn in food in Denmark and Britain.

European and Japanese consumers have long held serious fears about genetically modified plants. The concerns appear to have little scientific basis, but the failure to act within the rules for StarLink here will understandably exacerbate the worries.

If controlled responsibly, genetic engineering of plants can help feed people and protect the environment. The release of StarLink into food all over the U.S. underlines the need for controls. Industry has brought a harsher future upon itself.

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