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Biotech Firms Settle Starlink Lawsuit

February 7, 2003 GMT

SAN FRANCISCO(AP) _ Two biotechnology companies agreed to pay a combined $110 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed by disgruntled corn farmers over the StarLink fiasco, lawyers said Thursday.

Commercial corn farmers alleged that they lost money because of consumer fears caused when the companies’ unapproved biotech corn wound up in the nation’s food supply in 2000. The corn’s inclusion in a variety of foods led to national recalls for several companies.

The farmers didn’t grow the biotech crop, but alleged that the entire corn market, especially overseas exports, took a financial hit when the contamination was discovered in taco shells and chips.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Chicago preliminarily approved the settlement between the farmers and StarLink Logistics Inc., a fully owned subsidiary of StarLink creator Aventis SA, and Avanta USA, which owns StarLink distributor Garst Seed Co.

Lawyers said further court review was needed before the settlement becomes final.

``This agreement represents a significant advance in our ongoing efforts to bring the StarLink matter to a conclusion,″ StarLink Logistics president John Wichtrich said in a statement. A Garst spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday.

Last year, the two companies and four food makers agreed to pay $9 million to consumers who said they suffered allergic reactions from eating food products that contained the genetically modified corn.

The StarLink corn was engineered with a bacterium’s gene that’s deadly to the corn borer pest.

StarLink seed had been approved in 1998 by the Environmental Protection Agency for use in animal feed but not for human consumption because of unresolved questions about whether a protein it contains can cause allergic reactions. But the StarLink corn was mixed with regular corn in a number of cases.

No StarLink has been planted since the uproar.