DES MOINES, Iowa -- Attorneys general from 16 states, including Mike Hatch from Minnesota, are pressing the company that makes StarLink corn to do more to compensate farmers and grain elevators hurt when the genetically modified strain showed up in the food supply.
Meanwhile, the company, Aventis SA, announced plans to sell or spin off its agrochemicals business, which developed StarLink. The Strasbourg, France-based company said the move would allow it to focus on its pharmaceuticals, which include allergy drug Allegra.
The decision follows similar moves by rivals AstraZeneca PLC, Novartis AG and Monsanto Co. to abandon the idea of grouping health care and agriculture under one roof.
"I think what you're seeing is the recognition that drugs have a higher growth rate than agriculture does," said James Wilbur, managing director of Salomon Smith Barney in New York.
The agrochemicals business proved troublesome for Aventis after StarLink corn was found in taco shells, prompting a massive recall.
The Environmental Protection Agency has yet to approve the corn for human consumption because of questions about whether it can cause allergic reactions.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller urged Aventis CropScience on Wednesday to establish claims-handling procedures to compensate farmers and elevators for any losses linked to the corn.
"We told Aventis that our goals are to protect the food chain, to keep the grain-handling system running smoothly to reduce any additional losses, and to protect the economic interests of farmers, elevators and others in the grain industry," Miller said. "Aventis has taken some initial steps, but we urge them to go further."
The company has agreed to pay farmers 25 cents per bushel over normal local prices for StarLink and "buffer corn" -- crops grown near the genetically modified corn -- but not commingled corn. Aventis also is reimbursing the U.S. Agriculture Department for the cost of shipping and storing the corn to make sure it goes to livestock or industrial uses.
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