It only takes a few kernels of corn to spoil an entire shipload. And that's exactly what's happened — again — when StarLink was detected in Japan on Dec. 27.

A cargo ship with a belly full of corn docked in Nagoya harbor. After routine testing, Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries detected trace amounts of unapproved StarLink in the vessel.

StarLink corn is banned in Japan and is only registered for feed use in the U.S.

USDA officials say they're surprised because they believed all remaining StarLink corn was destroyed last year. Apparently, some was squirreled away in a few grain bins.

At press time, there's still some discrepancy about how much corn was suspect. However, it appears the 19,234-ton shipment, from U.S. seller Harvest States, had StarLink traces in 1,200 tons of the cargo.

Lani Jordan, spokesperson for Harvest States, says the corn sent to Japan in this particular shipment was extensively tested for StarLink. USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration concurs. In fact, it reports that this was the first shipment to test positive since a protocol was developed and implemented in 2000.

Many worry that this opening of an old wound could renew widespread international backlash against U.S. grain exports, as it did when it was first discovered in the U.S. two years ago.

But some, like Leon Corzine, are not ready to say it's a step backward. “We need to wait for the dust to settle,” says the Assumption, IL, farmer and chairman of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Biotech Working Group.

Although some of the details are still sketchy, Corzine says: “We need to be concerned and this incident should magnify, again, NCGA's ‘Know Before You Grow,’ program.”

The message is clear, Corzine adds. “We can't be cavalier. We've got to be diligent, knowledgeable and take these things seriously. We'd better know what the rules are and abide by them.”

I couldn't sum it up any better.

New Soybean Digest Staffer

Expect to see the name Karen Simon regularly in this and future issues of Soybean Digest. A veteran reporter, she joins the magazine as managing editor. With a rural Minnesota background, she'll dig into significant stories like the new Conservation Security Program on page 20. Plus, she'll make sure the magazine keeps getting to your mailbox on time.

Welcome to the staff, Karen.