U.S.D.A. Approves Pro-Ethanol Corn Over Food Industry’s Objections
A corn that is genetically engineered to make it easier to convert into ethanol has been approved for commercial growing by the Agriculture Department.
The decision, announced on Friday, was made despite objections from corn millers and others in the food industry, who warned that if the industrial corn accidentally got into corn used for processed foods, it could lead to crumbly corn chips, soggy cereal, loaves of bread with soupy centers and corn dogs with inadequate coatings.
“It is going to contaminate the food and feed system, and why they are going to take that risk over the objections of a major American industry, I just don’t understand,” said Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that has been critical of genetically engineered crops.
The corn contains a microbial gene that causes the corn to produce an enzyme that breaks down corn starch into sugar, part of the process for making ethanol fuel. Ethanol plants now buy this enzyme, called alpha amylase, and add it to the corn at the start of their production process.
Syngenta, the company that developed the new corn, asserts that corn containing its own enzyme will increase the output of ethanol per bushel while reducing use of water, energy and chemicals in the production process.
“The adoption of Enogen grain by U.S. ethanol producers can unleash a cascade of efficiency and environmental benefits industrywide,” David Morgan, president of Syngenta Seeds, said in a statement, using the brand name for the corn.
It said it would take various measures to keep the industrial corn from getting into the food supply. The corn is one of the first crops genetically engineered to contain a so-called output trait, one that influences the use of the crop after it is harvested.
Virtually all the traits used in such crops so far have had input traits aimed at helping farmers grow the crops by making them resistant to herbicides or insects.
But in the future more such output traits, like improved nutritional qualities, are expected to reach the market. The amylase corn is also one of the first to be engineered for industrial purposes rather than food use. The Agriculture Department has said in the past that crops used to produce industrial enzymes and pharmaceuticals would get extra scrutiny and regulation.
The department said on Friday it had determined that Syngenta’s corn met the statutory requirements for approval, in that the crop did not pose a plant risk. The Food and Drug Administration had previously found the corn safe to eat. The Agriculture Department said it was aware of the concerns of corn millers and food processors, but said the industry should work that out by itself.
“We are pleased that these segments of the industry continue to dialogue with Syngenta on research and testing efforts, and encourage these parties to continue their efforts to resolve the issues that remain,” the department said in a news release.