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Corn+Soybean Digest

StarLink System Was Loose

I want to express some opinions prompted by your November editorial titled "Learn From Taco Bell Mess" and the article "Biotech Corn Triggers Taco Shell Recall" (Bean Beat).

Your editorial statement, "Identifying StarLink corn in taco shells certainly raises a red flag about just how secure the identity-preserved system is here in the U.S.," caught my attention.

First of all, I do not consider that the system under which StarLink was released to be an IP system. An IP system is a strict production and delivery method, which possesses procedures of observing, inspecting, sampling and testing to assure the presence (or absence) of certain traits.

To my understanding, the StarLink release system contained none of these procedures. The system was a very loosely controlled grower agreement as to the disposition of his crop.

Secondly, an IP system has some inherent costs involved which are usually offset by a system of premiums to various parties in the supply chain, including growers and handlers. There was no incentive for a premium in this situation. The only trait was a pest control tool that had no market value except to the growers' production system.

The article stated that StarLink "was apparently grown and sold without a sufficient identity-preservation system in place to keep it out of food channels."

I would hope that a term similar to a "growing and distribution agreement" would be more appropriate to this situation than an "identity-preserved" system. If the seed company felt strongly enough about its StarLink corn to put it into an IP system, the company would be willing to pay the premiums required to keep it in the right market channels.

From the food manufacturers' point of view there was not a good IP system in place, either. Yes, the flour miller, Azteca Milling L.P., had a list of approved hybrids for purchase. But it didn't have in place a comprehensive IP system. An IP system would have checks and balances in addition to a grower's statement that the delivery was a certain hybrid. An IP system needs to have documentation from all growers, handlers and buyers - everyone in the supply chain.

I hope that you will help to portray IP as a sophisticated system that has been delivering IP products for many years.

As the marketing of these products moves from the small niche markets to the mainstream commodity oriented system, we have to be careful to educate those new parties that will be involved.

In Seed For Thought, in the November issue, you stated that the StarLink corn incident "raises a red flag about just how secure the identity-preserved (IP) system is here in the U.S." I feel this statement is both incorrect and could potentially damage the image of America's future identity-preserved exports.

The many statements about supposed efforts to keep StarLink corn out of U.S. exports make it clear that StarLink was to be done via "corn channeling." Corn channeling is defined strictly in terms of keeping corn out of a given commodity stream.

Identity-preserved is a much older term ... which has a very specific definition that encompasses much more than channeling.

For example, if a farmer mixed Roundup Ready corn with StarLink corn during its trip to a U.S. feedlot, that was fine for corn channeling ... but definitely not for IP. If a farmer failed to clean out his planter or his combine prior to moving the machine into a field of StarLink corn, that was fine for corn channeling, but definitely not for IP.

True IP exports (e.g., certified organic) also require a defined "paper trail"... which corn channeling does not require. True IP exports always provide a price premium to the farmer who grew the IP crop, which corn channeling never did (until the StarLink fiasco forced Aventis to ... as part of a buy-back).

Please do not confuse your readers by incorrectly lumping corn channeling with true identity-preserved. They have nothing in common.

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