CHICAGO, Jan 5 (Reuters) - The U.S. unit of European pharmaceutical giant Aventis SA said on Friday it had paid millions of dollars nationwide over its unapproved gene-altered corn that entered the U.S. food chain. A spokesperson for Aventis CropScience (NYSE:AVE - news) declined to identify those who received the money, but it is understood that they were largely grain elevators and handlers whose supplies were tainted with the StarLink variety.
StarLink corn, originally developed to be resistant to the European corn borer insect pest, is not approved for food use by humans in the United States because of concerns it might trigger allergic reactions. It is allowed as animal feed.
"Aventis is committed to taking responsible measures to address the concerns of those affected by the StarLink issue. We have already paid out millions of dollars and will continue to work with those affected on a case-by-case basis," she said.
The spokesperson was responding to charges by Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon on Friday that Aventis had not gone far enough in addressing concerns faced by farmers and grain handlers financially hit by StarLink corn. Traces of the corn were discovered in taco shells in September, leading to a series of food recalls. StarLink was also detected in food in Japan and South Korea, which sparked a sharp decline in U.S. corn imports from the key buyers.
Of the 340,908 acres planted with StarLink corn in the United States this year, 18,702 acres were in Missouri. The state ranked sixth in StarLink acreage behind Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, South Dakota and Kansas. "Aventis has not gone far enough in addressing the concerns of farmers," Nixon told Reuters in a telephone interview from his office in Jefferson City.
"Firstly, farmers and grain handlers are not getting paid (by Aventis) in a timely fashion, and secondly, certain people are not getting paid at all," he said.
Aventis is paying farmers a 25-cent premium for StarLink corn to ensure the remainder of the 2000 crop that had not already been rounded up does not enter the food chain.
Nixon said he was arranging for a meeting with Missouri farm groups and had set a personal deadline of January 15 to resolve financial and other issues with Aventis.
"We are in a situation where we are paying interest on our loan and storing corn that can't be sold right now. Our goal is to get that corn sold without losing any money," Nixon said.
"We also want to make sure the full breadth of the damage is paid not only to growers but also neighbors who were affected," he said, referring to farmers whose regular corn crops were tainted by StarLink through cross pollination.
Nixon had written to Aventis last month outlining problems faced by Missouri farmers due to the StarLink episode, and had asked the company to issue a $25 million bond to ensure it had sufficient funds to meet costs incurred by the industry.
He said that Aventis had replied to the letter this week, but added that the company was not willing to issue the bond.
"It is unwilling to put up the bond," he said, adding that he did not want to into the details of the letter from Aventis as he did not want to "negotiate in the press".
In his letter to Aventis, Nixon had said the company's failure to "properly manage the introduction of StarLink into the marketplace" had led to farmers and grain elevators being forced to accept lower prices for corn found tainted with StarLink or "even having their corn rejected altogether."
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Last Updated on 1/10/01