LATE IN THE SUMMER OF 2002, USDA inspectors examined a field just miles from Curt Carlson's Nebraska farm, where another farmer grew a small test plot of ProdiGene corn that was engineered to make a vaccine for fighting a diarrhea-
causing virus in pigs. He'd grown the ProdiGene corn the year before, then switched his field to soybeans, which he grew for veggie burgers and infant formula. During its inspection, the USDA found a few small diarrhea-vaccine corn plants, so-called volunteer plants that had sprouted in the midst of the soybeans without being planted. The USDA, concerned that drug corn might get into the food supply, immediately told the farmer and ProdiGene to destroy the plants. For some reason, that didn't happen -- and in early October, the farmer harvested his soybeans and delivered them to the Aurora Co-op, a local grain elevator, where they were to be stored before shipping. By the time the USDA inspectors returned to the soybean field and found the remains of the volunteer corn plants mixed with soybean stubble, a few leaves and stalks from the pharm corn had contaminated 500,000 bushels of soybeans from dozens of farms -- enough soybeans to fill more than 550 tractor trailers. Before the co-op started shipping them to makers of vegetable oil, soy milk and other foods, the USDA quarantined the contaminated Aurora soybeans. The news broke worldwide, and critics were outraged, blasting ProdiGene for carelessness and the USDA for lax oversight.