By Yuji Okada

BridgeNews Service

TOKYO (B)--Officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and the Ministry of Health and Welfare on Nov. 1 denied speculation that Japan will soon approve the controversial genetically modified hybrid corn, StarLink, for livestock feed use. The officials said a meeting between the Japanese government and the U.S. Department of Agriculture ended Oct. 31 with no plan on how to prevent further contamination of food for human consumption in Japan.

The talk overnight that Japan will soon allow imports of StarLink corn for feed use sent Chicago Board of Trade corn futures soaring 2.7%.

"Currently MAFF is not even considering whether or not to approve StarLink," a MAFF official said.

StarLink, genetically-engineered by Aventis CropScience, is not at all approved in Japan. However, a local consumer group revealed last week that genetic traces of the hybrid had been discovered in a locally-made corn meal baking mix called "Home Made Baking," leading to an immediate recall of the product, BridgeNews reported earlier.

"So far, MAFF has not received any application from anyone," an official at MAFF said, referring to the application necessary to approve any genetically-modified crops to be imported into Japan upon confirmation of the safety of the produce.

However, the MAFF official said the ministry plans to conduct investigations on how StarLink corn will affect livestock and meat when the animals are fed with StarLink corn.

The controversial hybrid corn has been responsible for a number of food products recalls recently in the United States. The country only approves the use of StarLink in livestock feed.

"The investigation has nothing to do with (a decision to approve) StarLink corn," the MAFF official said. "It is a completely separated issue."

The officials at the two Japanese ministries, meanwhile, said they had ended talks with officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Oct. 31, without any agreement on measures to be taken to prevent StarLink corn getting co-mingled in corn shipments destined to Japan. The talks started late last week.

"The only thing we did during the meeting was to exchange information on StarLink corn-related issues," one of the officials said.

In the Gulf of Mexico, at least two ships destined to take U.S. corn to Japan were sitting idle this week, said to be on hold waiting for Japan to ease its restriction on the controversial hybrid.

The United States accounts for more than 90% of Japan's corn imports.

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