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USDA Approves Corn Designed For Ethanol Production


USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on Friday announced the deregulation of a variety of genetically modified corn designed to improve the efficiency of ethanol production that is opposed by U.S. grain millers.

Syngenta A.G.’s Enogen corn variety is designed to produce an enzyme called alpha-amylase that speeds the breakdown of starch into sugar, a key step in the ethanol production process.

"APHIS conducted a plant pest risk assessment and found this line of corn does not pose a plant pest risk, and should no longer be subject to regulation by APHIS," says Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator for APHIS' biotechnology regulatory services in a press release.

Syngenta, which spent a several hundred million dollars to develop the corn, expects ethanol companies to pay farmers a premium for growing amylase corn because it saves them the expense of buying a liquid form of the enzyme.

“Enogen corn seed offers growers an opportunity to cultivate a premium specialty crop. It is a breakthrough product that provides U.S. ethanol producers with a proven means to generate more gallons of ethanol from their existing facilities,” Davor Pisk, Syngenta’s chief operating officer said in a news release.

The use of amylase corn also allows for a reduction in water and energy consumption and the production of a larger amount of ethanol from the same quantity of corn leading to increased ethanol production without increasing the corn area.

APHIS noted that amylase corn been reviewed and approved in other countries including Mexico, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Switzerland and the Philippines.

Syngenta Seeds, Inc. requested that APHIS grant non-regulated status to its alpha-amylase corn in 2005. In 2008, APHIS prepared a plant pest risk assessment as required by the Plant Protection Act and an environmental assessment in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. Both documents were made available for public review and comment, and APHIS received more than 13,000 comments.

Enogen corn was caught up in USDA’s regulatory review process for more than five years largely because the grain milling industry and food safety groups fought its commercialization.

Millers fear that if even a small amount of the biotech corn makes its way into their factories, the enzyme could damage the quality of food products such as breakfast cereals and snack foods.

Several groups, including the North American Millers' Association, the Center for Food Safety and Union of Concerned Scientists, said USDA failed to adequately consider the impact the genetically modified corn crop would have on human health, the environment or the livelihood of famers.

"Syngenta's own scientific data released last month shows if this corn is co-mingled with other corn, it will have significant adverse impacts on food product quality and performance," said a statement released by the North American Millers' Association on Friday.


Editor’s note: Richard Brock, Corn & Soybean Digest's marketing editor, is president of Brock Associates, a farm market advisory firm, and publisher of The Brock Report.

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