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Tainted soybeans delivered to Neb.

(Friday, Nov. 15, 2002 -- CropChoice news) --

AP: About 500 bushels of soybeans contaminated with genetically engineered corn were delivered to a Nebraska grain elevator, delivering a blow to a biotechnology industry still reeling from a similar contamination two years ago.

The Omaha World-Herald reported Thursday the soybeans were hauled to Aurora Cooperative Elevator Co., about 100 miles west of Omaha, within the last six weeks and had been contaminated with the remnants of a test plot of experimental corn.

The Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday it would order Prodigene Inc. to destroy the entire 500,000-bushel soybean pile worth an estimated $2.7 million at its own expense. None of the soybeans made it into the food supply, so there is no risk to the public, FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester Crawford said.

The announcement comes just weeks after Prodigene joined several biotech companies in agreeing not to grow genetically engineered corn intended for drug development in places where it could contaminate neighboring fields planted with crops for human consumption.

It also follows a massive recall two years ago when the StarLink brand of genetically engineered corn, approved solely for animal feed, turned up in taco shells.

Neil Harl, an Iowa State University agriculture economist, called the Nebraska contamination "an early warning shot across the bow" for a biotechnology industry trying to create vaccines and other products by altering genes in plants. "We have to ramp up our regulatory effort to assure that other incidents do not occur, and there is no gene-flow out of fields that are producing biotech crops."

U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors traced the apparent contamination to volunteer corn that sprouted and grew in the soybean field this year, spokesman Jim Rogers said. Inspectors estimated about one ounce of corn leaves and stalks was chopped up during the harvest and intermingled with the soybeans.

One acre of the field served as an experimental plot for ProdiGene last year, and the volunteer corn came from that.

"As soon as a concern was raised, we buttoned it up," Harlan Schafer, the elevator's interim general manager, told the World-Herald. Prodigene is attempting to grow different medications, from hepatitis B vaccine to an insulin-making enzyme, inside the kernels of genetically modified corn.

ProdiGene officials did not immediately return a phone call left Wednesday night at their offices.