Top Stories - Knight Ridder Newspapers
By Seth Borenstein, Knight Ridder Newspapers
(with removal of some corporate propoganda by stu)
WASHINGTON - The federal government kept it secret for three months that genetically modified corn seed was sold accidentally to some U.S. farms for four years and may have gotten into the American food supply.
The use of unapproved seed became public when the scientific journal Nature published a story about it Tuesday.
The government's secrecy about the release - one affecting the public food supply - raises serious concerns, according to independent experts.
Spokesmen for the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency (news - web sites) said there was no need to notify the public because the government had determined that Bt 10 was safe. In addition, the USDA is investigating the whole incident involving the seed company, which faces up to $500,000 in fines, Agriculture Department spokesman Jim Rogers said.
"We're gathering evidence that we may need in front of a judge," Rogers said. "If there was a health risk, you would have heard about it and there would have been a recall."
Syngenta, a Swiss-based company, distributed the unapproved genetically altered corn seed, called Bt 10. It mixed the Bt 10 with a near-identical and approved corn seed called Bt 11, company officials said Tuesday afternoon in a hastily called news conference. The Bt 10 was modified with a gene from the pesticide-like bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis.
"Most of the corn is used for industrial and animal use," Syngenta spokeswoman Sarah Hull said. "It may have gotten into the food supply, but regardless, the proteins are deemed safe and there's no food concern."
Remaining seeds have been destroyed or isolated, Hull said.
The unapproved seeds grew into 37,000 U.S. acres of corn over four years. That involves one-one-hundredth of 1 percent of the corn acreage in America, Hull said.
Sygenta's U.S. headquarters is in Greensboro, N.C. It runs its seed operation out of Golden Valley, Minn.
"I personally don't see it would be a major issue," said Kendall Lamkey, the head of Iowa State University's plant-breeding center.
But the way the federal government kept the mistake secret is alarming, Lamkey said, and may undermine public confidence in the growing field of genetically modified crops.
"The whole GMO (genetically modified organism) controversy surrounds a lack of transparency on both (the part of) the companies and regulatory agencies," said Lamkey, who served on a National Academy of Sciences (news - web sites) panel in 2002 on the environmental impact of genetically modified crops. "There's too much secrecy."
NOTE BY STU: NOTICE HOW LUMKEY, THE HEAD OF A GMO CENTER ON IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY, MAKES HIS LIVING OFF GMO, YET HE IS ON THE NAS PANEL THAT ADVISES GOV'T POLICY ON THIS ISSUE.
NAS IS NOTHING MORE THAN A CORPORATE FACE OF PSEUDO SCIENCE THAT TYPICALLY USES SCIENTISTS THAT HAVE A FINANCIAL STAKE IN THE ISSUE THEY'RE ADVISING ON. THIS IS UNETHICAL AND WRONG. THANKS FOR LISTENING.
In mid-December, Syngenta told the EPA, the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) about the release, Hull said.
EPA scientists reviewed seven packets of information from Syngenta from Jan. 7 to March 10, and "as more data came in, the confidence of our scientific determination (of no risk) increased," EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said in an e-mail. "Had there been a human health concern, we would have alerted the public immediately."
That's not acceptable, said Sheldon Krimsky, a Tufts University environmental-policy professor who's a longtime foe of genetically modified crops.
"They have both a moral and legal obligation to reveal violations," Krimsky said. "This is a government that's operating in a stealth manner that wants to keep bad news from the public."