Farm Group Says USDA Put Bad Corn Into Feed Chain

Thu January 23, 2003 06:06 PM ET

DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) - Iowa farmers and an environmental group on
Thursday charged the U.S. government with selling a problem supply of
genetically engineered corn to a feed company despite complaints that the
corn had caused hormonal problems in pigs.
The Iowa Farmers Union (IFU) and Friends of the Earth sent a letter on
Thursday to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, asking the
USDA to bar use of the corn in human or animal food "as long as the cause of
reproductive failure in swine is unresolved."

But a USDA spokesman told Reuters the corn had been tested and found to be
safe.

More than 20 farmers have complained over the last two years about sows that
ate the corn developing pseudopregnancy, exhibiting signs of pregnancy for a
full term without carrying a fetus. The corn is being tested to see if it
caused or contributed to the problems, the groups said.

They complained on Thursday that despite the potential problems, the U.S.
Commodity Credit Corporation sold 950 bushels of the suspect corn on Jan. 9
to the G&R Grain and Feed Company in Portsmouth, Iowa.

"They thought they could sell a minute amount and blend it in with other
corn and the farmers would accept it," said Iowa Farmers Union
representative Lori Sokolowski.

"We felt that further scientific testing needed to be done for USDA to
determine if this ... is a risk. But they aren't waiting for the testing to
be done."

USDA spokesman Wayne Baggett said USDA's Farm Service Agency "had samples
drawn and submitted for grading. The grading showed it (the corn) was
saleable."

Baggett said USDA then had the tests reviewed by Iowa State University
veterinary and grain quality experts. "They reviewed the test results and
determined that the corn would not be expected to affect swine."

In August, a USDA researcher wrote "one possible cause" of problems with
sows "may be the presence of an unanticipated, biologically active, chemical
compound within the corn."

"Why would USDA Secretary Veneman allow her Department to sell this corn to
a feed company before finishing a scientific investigation to learn if it is
harmful to pigs or other farm animals?" said IFU's Chris Peterson in a
statement issued Thursday. "We want sound science to avoid reproductive
problems in Iowa's swine herds. Independent hog farmers have told us that
this problem could be the final blow to their farms."

The sows in question had all eaten a genetically modified corn, some of
which was also found contaminated with a type of mold. Researchers have not
yet determined what about the corn could cause the hormonal changes, but
have not been able to rule out the corn as the cause, the farmers union
said.

"Their hormones are all messed up. The veterinarians couldn't figure out
what was wrong with the sows," said Sokolowski

Friends of the Earth, an activist group generally opposed to biotech crops,
said it had been corresponding for months with the USDA on this matter. A
letter from the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration
dated Oct. 29 said "scientists are testing the corn to determine if it
contains a novel toxin that might impact swine production," but no final
determination had ever been communicated.

The farmers union and Friends of the Earth acknowledged that researchers at
Iowa State University have said that genetically engineered Bt corn is not
the cause of swine reproductive failures experienced by numerous local
farmers.

But they said, research has not concluded whether some other aspect of the
corn was causing the problems.

The USDA has about 22,000 bushels of the suspect corn, having obtained it as
collateral on a loan to the operators of a Harlan, Iowa, farm.

The groups said the FSA attempted in late 2002 to sell the corn for ethanol
production but it was rejected by a local processor.

"When there is a mysterious problem that could affect the fate of farmers,
our health and the environment, we need answers -- not attempts to sweep it
under the rug like the USDA has done," said Friends of the Earth spokesman
Larry Bohlen.