Reuters, Kyodo News Service – It was discovered in September that many brands of taco shells and chips contained StarLink, a biotech variety of corn that has not been approved for human consumption. It was announced Tuesday, November 21, that material from StarLink corn has been discovered in corn seed that wasn’t supposed to be genetically altered. “The discovery raises the possibility that the material could find its way into other food products,” USDA spokesman Andy Solomon said. “We don?t yet know exactly what happened and how.”

The USDA is on record as saying that this type of transfer could not happen.

StarLink corn contains a gene that creates a germ-killing substance said to cause allergic reactions in some humans. It is approved for use only as animal feed in the U.S., the only country that produces it.

Now Japan as confirmed the presence of StarLink corn in food products sold in their retail stores. The food products in question were made from corn products processed from some 5,500 tons of corn imported from the United States in January. Eleven different Japanese companies used the corn to produce such products as beer, sweets and bread. StarLink has been banned in Japan while their Health and Welfare Ministry tests its safety in food.

As 38,000 more tons of corn imported from the U.S. in February and March have been confirmed to include StarLink, the ministry is trying to find out if other products containing the corn are already on sale.

Japan relies almost entirely on the U.S. for corn imports. If they can no longer trust the quality of U.S. corn and stop importing it, this would be a major blow for American farmers.

The biological makeup of corn carries a high risk of accidental cross-pollination. Since the pollen is produced in the followers at the top, or tassel, of the corn plant, it can be blown in the wind. “No one knows how far corn pollen can travel, some studies have even said a quarter of a mile,” said Dale Farnham, an Iowa State University agronomist. This means that GM corn could contaminate the fields of an organic farm nearby.

Lack of storage control also makes it easy for genetically modified organisms to find their way into the human food chain. Farnham said, “One type of corn looks like another, so they can become blended accidentally (in grain elevators). There are no safeguards. We?re dealing with 21st century technology and storage systems that are two or three decades out of date.”

Shawn McCambridge, a Prudential Securities analyst in Chicago, said the problem did not occur with wheat because wheat is so commonly used in human food. “We have not yet seen GM wheat. If we did, we would be seeing the same problems in those consumer products.”

But there are two sides to every story. A genetically-modified rice has been created that contains Vitamin A. There are plans to introduce it into poor countries where children eat mostly rice and become blind in childhood from lack of the vitamin.

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