KANSAS CITY (B)--Sixteen attorneys general say "Aventis must take additional action to effectively, quickly and fairly meet its responsibilities for the consequences of marketing StarLink corn," according to a release from Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, which headed the group. Market analysts have estimated as much as half of Iowa's production this year may be contaminated by the StarLink gene.

Miller and the other attorneys general sent a letter to Aventis Nov. 14 confirming measures the company has promised to take in response to the situation and urging the additional steps. They would like Aventis to establish claims-handling procedures so farmers and elevators can obtain speedy compensation if they incur costs or losses as a result of StarLink corn.

StarLink corn must be kept separate from other corn because it is not approved for human consumption. It has an altered gene to make it develop its own insecticide against corn borer caterpillars, but the Environmental Protection Agency could not rule out a link between a StarLink protein and one that can cause food allergies in humans. StarLink has gotten into corn for human food, and products have had to be recalled.

In a conference call with Aventis officers and the attorneys general in late October, Miller's office sought to clarify certain issues and to be assured they applied to all U.S. farmers and elevators. The letter back to John Wichtrich, vice president of commercial operations for Aventis, restated those verbal assurances and asked Aventis to confirm them in writing.

Aventis has extended the deadline for farmers to participate in the "StarLink Enhanced Stewardship Program" and agreed that farmers who participate do not waive any rights to recover additional damages they may incur as a result of growing StarLink corn, the release said.

The company will pay 25 cents a bushel for StarLink and "buffer corn" but not for commingled corn, the release said. However, it will pay logistical costs (such as transportation and storage costs) for StarLink and commingled corn delivered to approved sites. Aventis also will work with growers if there are value discounts assessed against their commingled corn.

Miller said in the release, "we consider it important for Aventis to say it will 'work with' growers, elevators and others if there are losses in value, because it indicates the company acknowledges certain responsibility for the situation."

"Buffer growers"--those who grew corn within 600 feet of StarLink corn--also are eligible to participate in the StarLink program for the buffer strip corn if the corn is contained or fed on the farm, the release said.

The company will pay storage and transportation costs for delivering the buffer and commingled corn to approved delivery sites, Miller's office said. If buffer growers use StarLink Logistics (working with Aventis to move grain to approved sites), then Aventis agrees to work with them if there are value discounts for commingled grain.

Grain elevators that received StarLink corn will be paid for additional transportation, demurrage and testing costs incurred in getting StarLink and commingled corn to approved delivery points, the release said. Aventis will work with grain elevators if there are value discounts for StarLink and commingled grain delivered to an approved site.

However, the attorneys general feel Aventis must do more "to effectively, quickly and fairly meet its responsibilities for the consequences of marketing StarLink corn." They urged the firm to take additional steps, including:

--Establishing a claims handling system quickly to compensate farmers, elevators and others who incur costs. The attorneys general said they had reports that claims to Aventis were not being paid expeditiously.

"Delays in payment can jeopardize the financial position of many in the grain handling industry," the letter said. "Undisputed claims should be paid within 30 days."

--Increasing logistical capabilities to prevent serious disruptions of the grain handling system. Aventis should identify more approved sites, hire additional staff to answer questions and remove bottlenecks, provide additional testing resources and improve its communications about StarLink Logistics through the Internet and other means, the Iowa release said.

--"Take further...steps to accept responsibility for economic losses," the attorneys general said. "It is inevitable that StarLink corn and commingled corn will suffer some loss in value," at a scope to be determined.

The group also wanted more discussions with the company about its pledge to work with producers, buffer growers, grain elevators and others concerning lost value.

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