By Kim Coghill

Washington Editor

Developers of a bioengineered corn suspected of being an allergen asked the EPA to permit use of its product in food for the next four years.

Aventis CropScience said Cry9C protein, the element of regulatory attention found in StarLink, meets the Food Quality Protection Act's "reasonable certainty of no harm" standard. StarLink corn is approved for use in domestic animal feed and non-food industrial uses, but found its way into food, most notably taco shells. In September, Aventis instructed its seed distributors to stop sales of the StarLink corn hybrids for the 2001 growing season.

In its submission to the EPA Wednesday, Research Triangle, N.C.-based Aventis said new data prove Cry9C protein has a very low potential of becoming a food allergen. And even if it is an allergen, the level present is so low that it would not cause an allergic reaction in a human.

The petition requests that the EPA permit treated StarLink corn that has been co-mingled with the food supply to pass through the commercial food chain, according to an EPA analyst. The company has not requested approval to develop the seed crop for future years but said it will take four years for the 1998 crop to pass through stores.

Failure to approve the petition could cause disruptions in the food and grain industries, an industry analyst said.

Aventis' petition is considered a high priority and EPA insiders say they expect a decision within weeks.

The EPA registered StarLink corn in 1998 under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for use as animal feed and for industrial uses. As a result, approximately 650,000 acres were planted in the United States between 1998 and 2000.

And according to Aventis, although StarLink corn was not registered for use in human food, "it now appears that through means now well known, not all of the corn has been kept within the scope of the registered uses."

StarLink corn was not approved for humans because the EPA could not rule out the possibility that it could cause allergies.

Aventis' petition was generated with the input of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the National Food Processors Association, the North American Millers' Association, the Corn Refiners Association, the National Corn Growers Association and other technology providers.

Aventis officials could not be reached for comment.

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