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USDA Approves Ethanol Corn

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, and our Million Against Monsanto page.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has cleared the way for farming corn that is genetically modified to produce α-amylase, an enzyme that rapidly breaks down starch into sugar. The decision-denounced by environmental groups-marks the first U.S. approval of a crop designed for ethanol production.

Syngenta will sell corn seed with the amylase trait under the name Enogen. The company has shown that the trait can boost ethanol production efficiency at a 50 million-gal-per-year facility by about 10%, providing "producers with a proven means to generate more gallons of ethanol from their existing facilities," says Davor Pisk, Syngenta's chief operating officer.

Syngenta first asked USDA for approval of the seed in 2005. On the basis of environmental and plant pest risk assessments conducted since then, USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service has concluded that this line of corn "should no longer be subject to regulation," says Michael C. Gregoire, deputy administrator for APHIS's biotechnology regulatory services.

Grain millers and food manufacturers, however, worry that the amylase trait will escape from Enogen crops and comingle with corn intended for human consumption. The groups say it will affect the quality and shelf life of processed foods containing corn, such as breakfast cereals, snack foods, and battered products.