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Judge approves StarLink settlement

By MARCELLA S. KREITER

CHICAGO, March 7 (UPI) -- A federal judge Thursday signed an order settling a class action suit against several food companies that used a genetically modified corn approved only for animal consumption.

U.S. District Judge James B. Moran's action ends a suit against Kraft Foods, Kellogg, Azteca Foods and Mission Foods, as well as Aventis CropScience, which developed StarLink, a variety of corn that produces a substance that discourages the corn borer. The substance, Cry9C, may be a human allergen.

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The $6 million settlement, which admits no liability, has no impact on a suit filed by farmers and grain elevator operators, who claim the accidental commingling of StarLink with non-genetically modified varieties reduced the value of their crops.

Thursday's order provides for $6 million in coupons to be placed on foods ranging from taco shells to corn dogs made by the companies. What is not redeemed through coupons will be placed into a fund for consumer interests. Another $3 million will cover attorneys' fees.

StarLink is the only genetically modified food not approved for both human and animal consumption. Some of it got mixed into non-StarLink stores even though labeling on StarLink seed instructed farmers to keep it separate from other crops. A number of farmers claimed they never received that warning.

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The discovery prompted the recall of tons of food products.

Subsequent research has not yet determined what level of Cry9C is safe for human consumption.

Since the mix-up, the federal government withdrew StarLink's approval. Last year, Aventis asked the Environmental Protection Agency to reverse its position allowing for no StarLink in the food chain. The EPA rejected the request in July but experts estimate it will take four or five years to rid the food supply of StarLink.

Larry Bohlen, director of health and environment programs at Friends of the Earth, said Kraft and the other food companies "are still paying a price for allowing the biotech industry to avoid careful regulation.

"This lawsuit does not settle the question of what caused severe allergic reactions reported by some individuals who ate products made with StarLink or whether genetically engineered crops pose other significant health threats. Future evidence of harm to consumers by engineered crops could lead to other, more costly class action suits."

Genetically Engineered Food Alert uncovered the contamination through the random testing of grocery products taken from store shelves.

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