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US Corn Grower Official Cites Japan Biotech Qualms

Reuters, April 27, 2005

WASHINGTON - Japan is seeking further assurance from the United States thatan unapproved biotech corn strain accidentally mixed with US grain shipmentswas not a risk to people, animals or plants, a senior official of a USindustry group told Reuters Tuesday.

Japanese corn buyers have slowed purchases due to fears they could facemillions of dollars in losses if their cargoes contain Bt10 -- an unauthorizedstrain of genetically modified corn made by Swiss agrochemicals group SyngentaAG . The maize mix-up occurred between 2001 and 2004.

National Corn Growers Association Chief Executive Officer Rick Tolman saidJapan wanted assurances from the US Food and Drug Administration about the safety of the Bt10 corn strain in food and feed.

"Japan is looking for a strong statement from the FDA on this beingapproved," Tolman said in an interview after meeting with top Bush administrationofficials.

But Tolman said the FDA does not have oversight in the Syngenta case.

Both the US Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency have concluded that the Bt10 strain does not pose a danger to people, animals or plants.

USDA officials were expected to seek clarification from Japan on what exactly Tokyo wanted. Tolman said the issue "should be resolved shortly."

Tolman said Tokyo was also close to deciding whether to begin testing for Bt10 in US corn shipments.

"Syngenta has delivered tests to Japan and they are currently looking at the tests to verify them and make sure that it is what they want to do," he said.

Earlier this month, Europe blocked imports of US maize animal feed and grains unless there was proof the shipments did not contain the biotech strain.

The European Union this week approved the Syngenta tests, enabling imports of US maize animal feed and grains to resume.

"They (USDA) reassured us that things were pretty well straightened out with the EU," he said.

USDA has fined Syngenta $375,000 for the mistake. The EPA was expected to conclude its own separate investigation soon.

Tolman and other members of the US Agriculture Department's trade advisory committee met with USDA Secretary Mike Johanns and other government officials to discuss the Bt10 corn incident and other trade issues.

Story by Randy Fabi

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