Farm Press Release
For immediate release - Thursday, October 19th, 2000.
Contact Bob Brammer - 515-281-6699.
Miller: Aventis Tells First Steps it is Taking to Deal With StarLink Corn
October 20 deadline for farmers to decide on StarLink purchase program is extended. Aventis says it will "work with" farmers and elevators that suffer losses. Miller says major issues remain on how to handle questions of grain with discounted value.
DES MOINES. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said today that high-ranking officials of Aventis CropScience, maker of StarLink genetically modified corn, have agreed to extend the deadline for StarLink producers to decide whether to participate in Aventis's program to purchase StarLink corn. The deadline had been set for tomorrow.
Miller called Aventis Wednesday to question the company on its position on several StarLink issues. Under the purchase program, producers can sell StarLink corn for a 25-cent-per-bushel prem-ium and be paid costs of storing the corn on their farm and transporting it to approved sites. He told Aventis the Friday sign-up deadline should be lifted, and the company agreed. Aventis also agreed to Miller's request that farmers who participate in the purchase program are not waiving any rights to recover additional damages they may have incurred as a result of growing StarLink corn.
On another key matter, Aventis told Miller it would offer the purchase program to farmers who planted other corn within 660 feet of StarLink fields. Aventis said it would "work with" elevators and farmers that have claims that StarLink corn has been commingled with other corn, resulting in discounted value for grain. Miller said major issues remain concerning grain discounting and that large amounts of money are at stake.
"This is a serious situation for farmers, elevators, processors, and everyone in the grain chain," Miller said. "We are following this situation closely with a goal of protecting producers, elevators and processors, and safeguarding our grain and food systems. Aventis says it will continue working with us and others to tackle this situation."
StarLink corn must be kept separate from other corn because it is not approved for human consumption. StarLink was altered with a bacterial gene to make it resistant to corn borer caterpillars, but Aventis's EPA license for StarLink does not permit use for human food because the Agency could not rule out a link between the StarLink protein and food allergies. StarLink grain can be used for animal feed and non-food industrial products.
Miller spoke by phone Wednesday morning with John Wichtrich, Vice President for Commercial Operations for Aventis USA LP, and he sent a letter to Wichtrich later Wednesday to confirm the conversation. Miller said Aventis told him:
- Aventis's top priority is to control and segregate StarLink corn. The company is seeking to keep the corn out of the grain marketing system, except for moving corn to "approved delivery sites" that can accept the corn and keep it completely segregated from other grain. Aventis has a list of approved delivery sites in the U.S., including 51 in Iowa. Aventis agrees to provide farmers with names of approved delivery sites in their areas.
- Aventis, with the USDA, has established the SES or StarLink Enhanced Stewardship Program under which farmers who grew the crop are encouraged to enter agreements for the grain to be purchased at a premium of 25 cents per bushel over the October 2, 2000, posted county price. Under the SES program, producers are urged to store the corn on their farms until further notice. Aventis will pay costs for storage and shipping to approved sites.
- Aventis said it will extend the October 20 deadline it formerly had set for farmers to decide to participate in the SES program. Aventis also agreed that farmers who participate in the SES Program are not waiving any rights to recover additional damages they may have incurred as a result of growing StarLink corn. "Farmers have more time, and they don't have to give up any rights to participate in this program, Aventis told us today," Miller said.
- Other corn commingled with StarLink corn and stored on the farm is not included in the SES Program. However, Aventis will pay storage and transportation costs associated with delivering the grain to an approved delivery location.
- Growers who can verify to Aventis that they grew corn within 660 feet of StarLink corn ("buffer growers") will be eligible to participate in the SES program for grain grown in the buffer strip and still stored on their farm. The EPA license for StarLink specified that a 660-foot buffer strip was necessary at any StarLink field to prevent StarLink from spreading its genes to other varieties of corn during pollination. "We don't believe most producers were aware of this requirement," Miller said.
- Aventis will work with grain elevators that received StarLink corn to assure that both StarLink and commingled StarLink corn are directed to appropriate approved delivery points. Aventis will pay for additional transportation, demurrage, and testing costs incurred by a grain elevator because of the commingled corn. Aventis said it will "work with" grain elevators to address problems related to discounts in value for StarLink and commingled grain delivered to an approved delivery site.
"There are difficult issues still to be resolved," Miller said, "especially the likely discounted value of commingled grain and grain already in the distribution system. We have a long way to go to sort out all those issues. Mr. Wittrich said his company would continue working with us and those who are affected by StarLink corn problems. I told Mr. Wittrich that it is unfair for farmers and elevators or others to be stuck with the consequences of problems they did not create."
Aventis also said it will provide test kits or testing at no charge to producers, elevators, or others. Aventis says the testing can determine if grain is StarLink corn or commingled with StarLink corn.
Aventis said its top objective is to keep StarLink corn out of the ordinary grain-handling system and food chain and ultimately to move the corn to approved sites and use for non-food purposes such as animal feed or ethanol production. Aventis told Miller it is eager to find effective ways to market such corn for uses including cattle feeding or non-food industrial products.
Shortly after the first detection of taco shells contaminated with StarLink corn flour, Aventis said on Sept. 29 that it had reached agreement with three federal agencies to work together to buy up all of this year's StarLink crop. The USDA, EPA and FDA are involved in the matter. According to The New York Times, Aventis told the agencies about its contacts with 2,070 farmers that grew StarLink crops. Last week, Aventis withdrew its registration of StarLink with the EPA.
"I think our conversation today with Aventis was a positive step," Miller said, "but there are many people affected and many issues to work through as we deal with this issue."
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