Iowa Public Television


Starlink, mad cow make impact on market

posted on December 8, 2000

This week there were a couple of extreme examples of the unintended cost of genetic alteration. One case involves a mutant protein that has apparently reconfigured DNA with abhorrent results. In the other case genes were engineered in the lab for better performance in the field. Starlink-brand corn, currently co-mingled in trace amounts has been viewed to be largely harmless to public health. Even so, government scientists this week concluded there was a real possibility the genetically modified organism might cause an allergic reaction in some humans. But such an event was unlikely because the product was only present in low concentrations.

The government approved the corn solely for use as livestock feed. But, the cost of its discovery in the human food stream is mounting.

Starlink, mad cow make impact on market For its part, Aventis CropScience, the distributor of the genetics, is still buying back Starlink corn at a premium. When all the costs are added up, the bio-tech giant may

pay out over a billion dollars to producers and elevator operators.

And, the fallout over the contamination of the U.S. corn supply is adding up.

Based on concerns over the purity of American corn, the Japanese have begun looking elsewhere for imports. The net effect has been a drop in U.S. corn exports to three-month lows.

(Slug elevator footage)

Despite the work by Aventis officials, farmers, and elevator operators to find all the Starlink in the system the problem is not expected to go away any time soon. Several million bushels are still unaccounted for and the current contamination is believed to be from the 1999 corn crop. Industry analysts are predicting Starlink will be in the system, in trace amounts, for at least two more years.

Though exports have fallen for corn, the recent out break of Mad-Cow disease in the European Union may provide an outlet for other grains. This week, E-U ministers banned the use of rendered livestock in all animal feed -- previously the ban had only applied to cattle rations. The move has increased the export of soybean meal to Europe.

The human form of Mad-Cow has taken the lives of 80 people in Britain and more than 100 others across the EU. Besides the human cost, Mad-Cow has hit British producers hard. Over the past five years, farm incomes have slid 72 percent, 27 percent this year alone.

Tags: agriculture animals cattle controversy corn crops diseases genetic engineering livestock Mad Cow markets news