The U.S. Agriculture Department said Feb. 11 it has deregulated a variety of corn genetically engineered to produce a common enzyme that speeds the breakdown of starch into sugar, a vital step in making ethanol.
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said Syngenta, the Swiss maker of the enzyme, called alpha-amylase, will create an advisory council and take other steps to alleviate concerns by food makers about the genetically engineered corn variety. Syngenta requested APHIS deregulate the corn variety in 2005.
“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,” said Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator for APHIS’s biotechnology regulatory services.
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.
The controversial decision to fully deregulate the corn is the latest move in the last month by the USDA to ease restrictions on genetically modified crops. USDA said on Jan. 27 that farmers could plant genetically altered alfalfa without any restrictions, and a week later it partially deregulated biotech sugar beets.
This “is a precedent-setting application if there ever was one,” said Margaret Mellon, the director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists
“It says they are simply going to be approved without regard to what damage they might do to our enviornment, or to our economy,” she added.
Ethanol makers could save money on energy costs by using corn containing amylase, an enzyme that helps break down starch in corn kernels.
But food makers and food-safety groups say products such as corn chips or breakfast cereal could be damaged if made from corn containing even small amounts of amylase.