Since the start of 2014, I’ve been amazed at the amount of negative biotech crop news that has appeared on the Internet and in the popular press. After losing in their efforts to have foods made using biotech crops labeled in California and Washington State, anti-biotech crop groups have scored a number of victories. This includes convincing lawmakers on one Hawaiian island to severely curtail biotech research and getting a major cereal manufacturer to drop biotech crop use from one of its products.
Of course, all this activity got me thinking back to moment when I believe biotech crops took a severe public relations hit – one from which they are still trying to recover. I’m talking about the moment in September 2000, when a biotech corn not approved for human consumption, StarLink, was discovered in taco shells made by Kraft Foods. Because it contained a protein that might cause allergic reactions in some consumers, StarLink corn was approved by the USDA for consumption only by livestock. However, traces of the corn’s Cry9C protein showed up in a human food item.
What followed was a nightmare for biotech crop proponents. StarLink’s maker, Aventis CropScience, agreed to buy the entire StarLink crop from growers and suspended the sale of any new seed. Ultimately, the company exited the agricultural market.
But in many ways, the damage remains. This incident convinced many biotech crop critics that either agricultural companies were “trying to pull a fast one” over on consumers, weren’t paying close enough attention to how their biotech crops were being brought to market in the first place, or both. Biotech crop supporters have been scrambling ever since to reassure critics and convince the world these products are safe.
And, in one form or another, the agricultural industry has been trying to undo the damage done by the StarLink incident ever since.