WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Consumer, food, farm and grain groups have one month to offer suggestions on Aventis SA's request for four-year approval of a biotech corn blamed for a series of recalls and widespread food testing, the Environmental Protection Agency said Monday.
The EPA also said in a statement it would hold a scientific review meeting in late November on whether enough evidence exists to determine if Aventis' genetically modified StarLink corn can cause food allergies among some people.
The agency will publish its own preliminary assessment by Friday on new scientific data submitted by Aventis in an effort to prove StarLink poses no allergic risks.
StarLink was approved by the EPA in 1998 for use only as animal feed, because of concerns by scientists about the corn's unique protein, which takes longer to digest than similar substances. Last month, an unknown amount of StarLink corn was found to have contaminated U.S. human food supplies, triggering a series of recalls of taco shells, tostitos and other products with corn flour.
Japan, the biggest buyer of American corn exports, has complained about the contamination to U.S. officials and sought assurances that no StarLink will slip into its purchases.
Aventis, which is facing at least $100 million in costs to buy back this year's StarLink crop from farmers, last week asked the EPA for temporary approval that would allow the corn to be consumed by humans. The company said a four-year grace period is needed to allow the corn to work its way through grain elevators, flour mills, food manufacturing plants, and consumer pantries. The European-based company contends the EPA action would be a temporary measure because the company has already withdrawn its government registration to make and sell StarLink corn seed in the future.
The company's request is opposed by some environmental and consumer groups, who contend that much more study and testing is needed to determine if StarLink is safe for human consumption.
The EPA is "committed to conducting its regulatory decision- making in a transparent and participatory manner," the agency said in a notice to be published in the Federal Register. "During the comment period, EPA also expects to make available additional information that it will be providing to the scientific peer review group."
Several independent scientists will soon be appointed to a new EPA advisory panel to analyze the StarLink allergy data, the agency said.
The EPA also encouraged any consumers who have had possible allergic reactions to StarLink to notify the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for investigation. The FDA, which has received a dozen or so complaints, will share its information with the EPA.
Food allergies typically cause rashes, sneezing, diarrhea or respiratory problems in those sensitive to a substance.
As recently as June, an EPA science advisory panel took another look at StarLink and said it lacked enough information and data to determine if the bio-corn was a potential food allergen.
The EPA shares authority over biotech foods with the FDA and the U.S. Agriculture Department. The EPA was the lead agency in approving StarLink, because the corn is engineered to contain a pesticide that kills bugs that eat young corn plants.
Public comments on StarLink must be submitted to the EPA by Nov. 27 and can be sent via letter, e-mail or fax. The agency posted information about its StarLink proceeding on the Internet at www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides
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Last Updated on 11/2/00