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
“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
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was withdrawn by Aventis CropScience in mid-October,
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."