StarLink Buyback Program

By George Grow

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Last year, we reported about a product called StarLink corn. StarLink corn is the only genetically-engineered crop grown in the United States that is not approved for human use. Reports said the corn entered the American food supply.

Earlier this month, the Agriculture Department announced that it will pay some seed companies for corn mixed with StarLink. Officials estimate the government will spend up to twenty-million dollars on the buy back program. It is believed to be the first direct federal payment to food producers harmed by biotechnology.

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

StarLink is among several kinds of genetically-engineered corn. It has a protein designed to protect plants from harmful insects. Three years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency approved StarLink corn as food for animals. However, E-P-A officials expressed concern that StarLink could cause health problems in people who may be allergic to the product.

Groups opposed to genetic engineering have been testing food products for StarLink corn. Last year, there were reports that StarLink was found in food for humans. The tests showed it was present in some corn products. The makers of the corn products ordered their return. Other companies were forced to temporarily suspend production of their food products to test for StarLink.

A few weeks ago, some seed companies reported finding small amounts of the StarLink protein in some corn. Official reports estimate that less than one percent of the nation's corn seed has the protein.

The Agriculture Department says affected companies have taken control of all corn seed found to have the protein. It says none of this seed was sold to farmers.

A group representing American corn growers welcomed the government's announcement of the buy back program. However, some groups are urging farmers to demand documentation that corn purchased for spring planting is free of StarLink.

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

Voice of America Special English