Banned GM Maize found in Saudi Arabia a decade after it was removed from the U.S. market.

starlinkpuctureStarLink™ maize, a banned modified Bt corn maize was again found widely contaminating food products in Saudi Arabia.

StarLink maize, patented by Aventis CropScience, was approved for domestic animal feed and industrial use in the US in 1998 but was removed from human consumption due to safety concerns related to its potential allergenicity. In 2000 traces of StarLink maize were found in taco shells prompting the first Taco Bell GMO recall of its kind. Aventis withdrew the corn from the market in October 2000 specifying that it would no longer be produced.

In this latest study, 200 samples collected from the Saudi Arabian provinces of Al-Qassim, Riyadh, and Mahdina in 2009 and 2010 were screened for GM ingredients. GMOScreen 35S and NOS test kits were used to detect genetically modified organisms. The results were as follows:

All rice samples were negative for the presence of 35S and NOS GM gene sequences.

Approximately 26% of soybean samples were positive for 35S and NOS GM gene sequences.

Approximately 44% of the maize (corn) samples were positive for the presence of 35S and/or NOS GM gene sequences.

The results showed that 20.4 % of samples was positive for maize line Bt176, 8.8 % was positive for maize line Bt11, 8.8 % was positive for maize line T25, 5.9 % was positive for maize line MON 810, and 5.9 % was positive for StarLink maize.

Twelve samples were shown to contain less than 3% of genetically modified (GM) soy and 6 samples greater than 10 % of GM soy. Four samples containing GM maize were shown to contain >5 % of GM maize MON 810. Four samples containing GM maize were shown to contain >1 % of StarLink maize

The discovery of more than 1% contamination of maize samples with Starlink maize is highly significant, as the detection sensitivity of present-day kits reaches 0.125% (1 StarLink kernel in 800) for most test kits and 0.01 percent (1 Starlink kernel in 10,000) for highly-sensitive kits.

This is not the first time that GM ingredient contamination of the food supply has been identified in Saudi Arabia. In 2010, a study published in the African Journal of Food Science titled,” Monitoring of genetically modified food in Saudi Arabia,” evaluated 202 samples of mostly imported food, sampled from Ridyadh local markets. The samples consisted of 50 types of corn seeds, flour, starch, pop corn, fresh sweet corn and baby corn; 36 types of seeds, pre-fried and frozen potatoes, 14 types of canned foods, 14 types of wheat seeds and flours, 32 types of frozen meat, 6 samples of tofu, soy flour, soy sauce and seeds, 16 samples of clover seed, 10 samples of sorghum seeds, 24 samples of tomato seeds, paste and canned tomatoes. Using DNA extraction and quantification techniques, they found 20 of the 202 samples were positive for GM ingredients. Sixteen of the 20 positive samples were ground meat which contained GM Roundup-Ready soybeans. Three of the remaining four positive samples were corn or corn products, with the last positive sample containing GM potato material.

According to the 2010 study, the mandatory Saudi Arabian GMO labeling requirement is set at a 1% maximum threshold limit for defining a GM food product. If a product contains one or more GM ingredients, a triangle should be drawn and the text inserted in the triangle should read “Contains Genetically Modified Product (s). In January of 2004, The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) has banned imports of GM seeds, and thus no GM crop is grown in the country.

The bio pollution demonstrated by this latest contamination event illustrates the problems when dealing with a GM market, where a GMO corn product that was banned from the US market over a decade ago resurfaces in a country like Saudi Arabia who has a strict GM regulatory industry, with mandatory labeling and import laws that restrict the entry of GM products into the country.


Rafaat M Elsanhoty, A I Al-Turki, Mohamed Fawzy Ramadan. Prevalence of Genetically Modified Rice, Maize, and Soy in Saudi Food Products. Appl Biochem Biotechnol. 2013 Aug 1. Epub 2013 Aug 1.

Monitoring of genetically modified food in Saudi Arabia. African Journal of Food Science Vol. 4(8) pp. 536 – 540, August 2010

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