Late Tuesday Swiss-based Syngenta announced it had mistakenly mixed two biotech events in a small number of its corn breeding lines. Reports say a tiny number of the corn seeds may have entered the food chain and export market.
During advanced testing, Syngenta discovered Bt10 in its corn breeding lines used primarily for pre-commercial development. The Bt protein produced by these lines is identical to that produced by the commercialized, fully approved Bt11 varieties. "Therefore, there is no change to the food, health and environmental profile of the corn," a statement from Syngenta says.
Following the Syngenta-initiated investigation of unintended corn release, EPA and USDA concluded existing food safety clearance applies and that there is no human health or environmental concerns. All current plantings and seed stock containing this material have been identified and destroyed or otherwise contained.
According to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Syngenta spokeswoman Anne Burt says, "A relatively small volume of the unapproved experimental seeds were grown into transgenic corn in test plots in private U.S. farms. An even smaller volume may have been grown into feed and food corn and sold."
The article went on to quote Burt as saying it's unlikely that small volumes of harvested grain, "i.e. two one-thousandths of 1%, could have entered U.S. export channels through the normal process of grain exports."
The Star Tribune also reports that the seed was produced in four states, although the states were not identified. A representative from the National Corn Growers Association had been told by Syngenta that the number of states was eight.
The information comes at a time with export markets are just beginning to relax biotech restrictions. The London-based Department for the Environment, Food and Regulatory Affairs (Defra), assured UK consumers that there was "no actual indication that this contamination could have affected supplies of maize exported to the UK. The amount of seed in question is very small. In addition, only 18% of US corn is exported - and the EU imports only a very small proportion of US exports of maize.
"In addition this form of maize is used predominantly in animal feed rather than in food production. We do however apply high standards of enforcement and as part of our firm commitment to consumer choice and information we are making this information public," a Defra spokesman commented.
Syngenta's insect resistant European corn borer product Bt11 was approved for cultivation and food use in 1996 in the United States and for food and feed use in Japan in 1996 and the EU in 1998.