USDA accused of selling toxic corn (20/5/2003)

20 May 2003

USDA accused of selling toxic corn

USDA accused of selling corn to food and feed handler that own research said might be toxic
May 20, 2003, Issue #249 http://www.ea1.com/CARP/

 An environmental group and an animal welfare organization [May 16] jointly released evidence that, for a second time, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sold corn that one of its own researchers said might be toxic.  The groups raised concern that the suspect corn may end up being used as animal feed or even in grocery products, posing a risk to health.

The corn, a genetically engineered variety not approved for sale as food in the European Union, was apparently delivered to a Cargill processing facility in Blair, Nebraska.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) obtained copies of receipts for sale of more than 18,000 bushels of corn marketed by the Commodities Credit Corporation on behalf of the USDA's Farm Services Agency (FSA).  It was sold February 3 to February 6 to Koster Grain Company, a handler of corn for food and feed in Carroll, Iowa.  The USDA's own researchers suspect the corn caused severe reproductive problems in pigs in Iowa.  It is also a variety genetically engineered by Monsanto to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup.

According to a May 15 report on CropChoice.com, "one of the haulers, who wished to remain anonymous, said he took the corn to the Cargill plant in Blair, Nebraska"  Cargill has an explicit policy to reject Roundup Ready corn at its Blair, Nebraska facility since the European Union and other export markets won't accept this type of genetically engineered corn. The policy is posted on Cargill's Web site and in its e-mail newsletter to growers.  To avoid these problems, Monsanto requires growers to deliver its Roundup Ready corn to designated handlers.  As of May 15, Koster Grain was not on the American Seed Trade Association's list of handlers that accept Roundup Ready corn

"It appears that the USDA violated an Iowa farmer's grower agreement with Monsanto and they may have sold Cargill truckloads of corn that nobody would want to get caught using as food," said Lori Sokolowski a member of the Iowa Farmers Union.

The corn originated on the farm operated by Jerry Rosman, an Iowa farmer whose hogs suffered unexplained reproductive failure in 2000 and 2001. A lead researcher at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service in Ames, Iowa, wrote in August that, "one possible cause of this problem may be the presence of an unanticipated, biologically active, chemical compound within the corn."  Researchers at Iowa State later released a statement saying that genetically engineered Bt corn was not the cause of swine reproductive failures experienced by numerous local farmers.

The researchers did not conclude whether some other aspect of the corn was causing the problems.

"This is worse than USDA oversights involving biopharmaceutical corn contamination of soybeans last year.  In this case, the USDA is the party responsible for putting a crop with a potentially harmful substance into food and feed channels," said Larry Bohlen, director of Health and Environment Programs at Friends of the Earth.

In a letter to the USDA last fall, FoE urgently appealed to USDA Secretary Veneman to obtain all of the corn to save it for science, as well as keep it off the market until researchers find the source of reproductive problems. The USDA wrote a response, October 29, saying that USDA   "scientists are testing the corn to determine if it contains a novel toxin that might impact swine production."

Then in a fax from FSA to Friends of the Earth  February 5, an FSA official claims that the USDA tested for one compound known to cause reproductive problems in lab animals and could not find it, but "did not test the samples for any other compounds."  Farmer and environmental advocates have asked the USDA why the corn was sold before the mystery was solved and when they expect the investigation to be completed.

"At a time when independent hog farmers are struggling with record-low prices, they cannot afford to be impacted by a problem that has been largely ignored by the USDA.  We hope that the USDA will take action before more farmers like Jerry Rosman are forced out of business," said Chris Bedford, Farm Animal and Sustainable Agriculture Campaign coordinator.   

By a twist of legal fate, the USDA's FSA took possession of 19,000 bushels of corn from the 2001 Rolling R Farm harvest in Harlan, Iowa. It was used as collateral on a loan to the operation once managed by farmer Jerry Rosman. USDA officials in Washington, D.C., had directed the FSA to not sell the corn for food or feed.

The FSA attempted in late 2002 to sell the corn for ethanol production to Tall Corn Ethanol, a local processor, which rejected it.  A byproduct of ethanol is gluten, used in animal feed and human food, raising concern that any problem with the corn might enter the food chain.  The FSA sale in February follows one it made in January of 950 bushels to G & R Grain and Feed Company of Portsmouth, Iowa.

The reproductive problem experienced by Rosman's sows is called pseudopregnancy and is characterized by false pregnancy, in which the animal exhibits the signs of pregnancy for a full term but carries no fetus. The Rolling R Farm is not the only operation to suffer the problem.  

According to IFU, which has been running radio announcements and print ads with HSUS in Farm News and Iowa Farmer Today (NE & NW editions) to assess the extent of the problem, more than 20 farmers have been impacted.  The organizations continue to take calls from  concerned farmers, and they plan to put these farmers in touch with researchers interested in solving the pregnancy problems.

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