WASHINGTON, DC, February 16, 2005 (ENS): More than 70 environmental, consumer, farmer, human rights groups and unions from six Central American and Caribbean countries held simultaneous press conferences today to denounce the presence of unauthorized genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food aid distributed by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), and in commercial imports of food originating mostly from the United States.
StarLink maize was found for the first time in food aid distributed directly by the WFP. StarLink is banned for human consumption due to possible allergic reactions to the genetically altered protein it contains.
In total over 50 samples of maize and soy from food aid in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and from commercial imports in Costa Rica and Dominican Republic were sent to Genetic ID, an independent U.S. laboratory, to verify whether GMOs were present.
GMOs were found in more than 80 percent of all samples sent to the laboratory.
Food aid has been identified as the main reason behind the presence of GMOs in countries of the region. In Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala all samples of food aid sent to the laboratory tested positive for GMOs.
“The WFP by introducing food aid with GMOs is placing at risk our children and pregnant women, the most vulnerable people in our society. The GMOs identified are not authorized in our country and the World Food Programme must immediately recall them,” said Julio Sánchez from Centro Humboldt in Nicaragua.
“In Nicaragua our farmers produce enough food and the WFP should buy any needed food within our country, instead of using imported food with GMOs,”added Sánchez.
The presence of GMOs in the only sample in which GM levels were tested, a bag from Guatemala, was higher than 70 percent.
StarLink corn contains Cry9C, an insecticidal protein. StarLink technology was developed by Aventis CropScience and its predecessor companies in the 1990s and licensed to a number of corn seed companies. StarLink corn was produced by inserting the gene for Cry9C into certain corn hybrids. The gene that makes the Cry9C protein was isolated from a common soil bacteria, a strain of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) subsp. tolworthi.
StarLink corn seed was registered and annually renewed for domestic animal feed and non-food, industrial use in the USA in 1998, 1999 and 2000. The U.S. registration was withdrawn by Aventis CropScience in mid-October, 2000.
While StarLink is no longer sold as human food, the use of StarLink corn in livestock feed and industrial, non-food uses is still approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In October 2000 the EPA said it "does not have any evidence that food containing StarLink corn will cause any allergic reaction in people, and the agency believes the risks, if any, are extremely low."
But the groups in Central America and Carribean are concerned that food with the Cry9C protein was distributed in their countries. The organizations requested the WFP to immediately recall all food aid containing GMOs.
“It is not acceptable that a maize which is illegal for human consumption worldwide is contained in food aid distributed in our country. Finding StarLink four years after it was banned clearly shows that genetically modified foods are not under control," said Mario Godinez of CEIBA in Guatemala.
“The unwanted presence of unlabeled GMOs shows that Costa Rica urgently needs a ban on GMOs," said Fabián Pacheco of the Social Ecology Association in Costa Rica. "In order to protect our population it is of utmost importance now more than ever to act with great caution."