Illegal Genetically Engineered Corn Found in Shipments to U.S. Largest Grain Importer

Illegal Genetically Engineered Corn Found in Shipments to U.S. Largest Grain Importer

Syngenta’s Bt10 Corn Found in Japanese Imports

Washington D.C.-The discovery of a new batch of unapproved genetically engineered corn in Japan this week shows that current regulations of such genetically engineered foods are woefully inadequate, and need to be significantly strengthened, according to Friends of the Earth, a Washington, D.C. based environmental advocacy organization.

“Negotiators from the U.S. and around the world are meeting right now in Montreal,” said Lisa Archer, Community Health and Environmental Coordinator at Friends of the Earth-US. “This contamination occurred because of carelessness and weak U.S. regulations. The Japanese incident reinforces the necessity of bringing the biotech industry under control in the U.S. and around the globe.”

Officials from Japan, the biggest importer of U.S. corn, said that a shipment of corn from the U.S. was found to be contaminated by an illegal, experimental genetically engineered corn, called Bt10. The Swiss-based biotech company, Syngenta, admitted in March that it had mistakenly sold the wrong maize to farmers in the U.S. for the last four years. [2] This is the second discovery of U.S. grain exports contaminated with Bt10 in as many weeks. On May 25, a U.S. shipment of corn gluten feed was blocked in Ireland. The shipment was contaminated with Bt10. [3]

On May 11, 2005, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety sent a letter to three federal agencies demanding that the government remove Syngenta’s unapproved genetically engineered corn from the nation’s food and seed supply pending a thorough risk assessment. Bt10 produces an illegal pesticide not registered by the EPA, yet U.S. agencies have claimed that the corn is safe, without conducting a full risk assessment as has been performed for all previous commercialized genetically engineered crops. [4]

Bt10 contains a gene for resistance to a commonly used antibiotic, ampicillin. Many medical organizations that have examined the safety of GE crops have expressed concern about the use of such genes in engineered food crops, including the American Medical Association, World Health Organization, UK Royal Society, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Pasteur Institute, European Food Safety Authority, and Codex Alimentarius. The British Medical Association has cited the use of such genes as one of their reasons for proposing a ban of GE crops. These groups fear that these antibiotic resistant marker genes will transfer to pathogenic bacteria in humans and exacerbate the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, already a huge medial problem.

“Syngenta’s genetically engineered Bt10 corn has not been tested or approved for human consumption anywhere in the world,” said Archer. “The U.S. government’s negligence is now jeopardizing the safety of the food supply all over the world.”

The latest contamination occurs as negotiators on the Biosafety Protocol, in Montreal, Canada [5], begin discussing the issue of the export of GE crops that are not licensed for consumption in the importing country. The talks are at a critical stage with a small number of countries – New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico and Peru – blocking regulations that would reduce contamination from GE crops. An agreement on these rules is expected in the next 24 hours, despite the huge lobbying efforts by the biotech industry for regulation.

The Syngenta corn contamination follows the discovery in 2000 by Friends of the Earth of hundreds of products contaminated with StarLink corn,[7] another variety of genetically engineered corn not approved for human consumption. Starlink was unapproved because of concerns that it could cause allergic reactions, but is still being detected in corn supplies five year after it was banned.

On Monday, Friends of the Earth International released a report showing that tougher measures are needed to prevent contamination from GE crops. [6]







[4] /camps/comm/safefood/biopharm/Bt10AgencyLetter.pdf

[5] For more information on the Biosafety Protocol and the “Second meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety” go to the official UN website:

[6] The report, Tackling GMO contamination can be found here:

[7] /camps/comm/safefood/gefood/starlink.pdf



Dick Bell (202) 222-0742
Lisa Archer (202) 222-0712