WASHINGTON -- A variety of biotech corn that prompted nationwide recalls of food products last fall has shown up in yet another product, Kellogg's-made veggie corn dogs, the anti-biotech group Greenpeace said Thursday.
The frozen product, which is sold under the Morningstar Farms label, was purchased in a Baltimore Safeway store last month and tested positive for StarLink corn, the group said. The corn was approved only for animal feed because of unanswered questions about its safety for humans.
The product also contained a variety of genetically engineered soy that is approved for food use, Greenpeace said.
"Americans have asked Kellogg's over and over to stop this genetic experiment on our food, yet Kellogg's refuses to listen and tries to mislead consumers," said Charles Margulis, a Greenpeace spokesman.
Kellogg's spokeswoman Chris Ervin said the company has notified the Food and Drug Administration and was commissioning its own tests of the corn dogs. She said the corn dogs were produced Oct. 4 with corn that would have been grown in 1999. No recall is planned, she said.
She denied an allegation by Greenpeace that Kellogg's has misled consumers into thinking its Morningstar Foods products contain no biotech ingredients. While Kellogg's has tried to use only conventional soy, it doesn't label products as biotech-free, she said. The appearance of biotech soy in the corn dogs was the result of a mistake by a Kellogg's supplier, she said.
Food processors have been testing for StarLink since last fall. However, it is virtually impossible to keep some of it from getting into food products because of the way corn is intermingled, said Gene Grabowski, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America. "Strict segregation, 100 percent segregation, is impossible with today's food supply," he said.
Testing on the corn dogs was conducted by an Iowa lab, Genetic ID, that identified StarLink in taco shells last fall.
Greenpeace's announcement came a day after the government disclosed that as many as 400,000 bags of corn seed, or about 1 percent of the country's total supply, have been contaminated with StarLink.
The estimate released by the Agriculture Department is based on a survey of seed companies that have been testing their corn for traces of the genetically engineered variety.
USDA said Wednesday it had agreed to buy the contaminated seed from small seed companies at a cost of up to $20 million. Large companies, such as DeKalb and Pioneer, will bear the loss themselves.
None of the tainted seed is believed to have been sold to farmers, and it is either being destroyed or diverted to industrial uses, according to the American Seed Trade Association. The association said in a statement its 250 companies are "doing everything possible to minimize the presence" of StarLink in future crops.
The contaminated bags contain an average of about 800 StarLink kernels, according to the industry survey. A bag of seed contains 80,000 kernels.
"As far as we know all the seed lots that have tested positive (for StarLink) have been returned to the seed corn companies," said Ralph Linden, an Agriculture Department lawyer.
Purchasing the tainted corn will more than pay for itself from the government's point of view by avoiding disruptions in grain markets that would increase federal corn subsidies, Linden said.
USDA said it would buy tainted seed only from seed companies that never sold StarLink themselves.
The department is likely to pay about $35 to $50 per bag for the contaminated seed, he said. Corn seed retails for about $75 a bag.
The National Corn Growers Association has warned farmers not to buy seed that has not been certified StarLink-free and has asked USDA to help get that message to growers through the department's network of field agents.
Farmers also are advised to avoid contaminating their corn crops with stray StarLink plants that will sprout this spring from grain left in fields from last fall's harvest.
The department has not asked StarLink's developer, Aventis CropScience, to reimburse the government for the contaminated seed but has not ruled that out, said Dale Moore, chief of staff to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.
Aventis CropScience has withdrawn the corn from the market but insists it is safe for people. Aventis has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to approve the corn temporarily for food use to prevent further disruptions in grain handling.
StarLink contains a special protein, called Cry9C, that digests slowly and could be allergy inducing, scientists say.
In a report issued Thursday, EPA said the protein is not found in corn oil or syrup, the primary food uses of corn, but is contained in meal and other dry products. EPA said it would use the findings it deciding whether to approve StarLink for food use.
On the Net:
Aventis' StarLink site: http:www.starlinkcorn.com
Agriculture Department: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology
National Corn Growers Association: http://www.ncga.com
American Seed Trade Association: http://www.amseed.com/index.html