Corn seeds developed by Swiss agrochemicals group Syngenta AG were mistakenly contaminated during 2001 through 2004 with a strain of genetically modified corn that had not been approved for distribution, the company said Tuesday.
WASHINGTON Corn seeds developed by Swiss agrochemicals group Syngenta AG were mistakenly contaminated during 2001 through 2004 with a strain of genetically modified corn that had not been approved for distribution, the company said Tuesday.
Syngenta said the problem was found in plantings in four U.S. states. But both the company and the U.S. Department of Agriculture refused to identify those states.
A federal investigation into Syngenta's unapproved corn strain will be completed soon, Jim Rogers, spokesman for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said. Syngenta could be fined up to $500,000 for the incident, USDA said.
The government did not recall the product or make a public announcement about the incident because it was not a food safety risk, according to Rogers.
Syngenta said all of the problematic plantings and seed stock have been "identified and either destroyed or isolated for future destruction."
The company's announcement came as the European Union was pushing ahead with approving more genetically modified crops in the face of some stiff consumer opposition to what has been dubbed there as "Frankenfoods."
Syngenta said seed produced from the contaminated lines over the four-year period represented "one-one hundredth of 1 percent of the U.S. corn acres planted during that time," or 37,000 acres.
While the Bt10 biotech corn strain was mistakenly used, "there is no health or safety issue with this product," the company said.
Syngenta spokeswoman Sarah Hull told reporters the company discovered the problem in mid-December. At least three U.S. government agencies were investigating the incident.
"Syngenta recently discovered that event Bt10 was present in a very small number of its Bt11 corn breeding lines," according to a company statement. While Bt10 has not been approved by the government, Bt11 has been approved for distribution for food and feed use and for cultivation in the United States, Japan, Canada and other countries, according to the company.
While the company said it was "extremely unlikely," it added that some of the contaminated harvested grain "could have entered U.S. export channels as Bt11 through the normal process of grain exports."