- AP, via the International Herald Tribune, November 25, 2008
Straight to the Source
WASHINGTON: The U.S. Agriculture Department is moving to make it easier to grow genetically engineered corn for ethanol production, despite fears among safety advocates that some might end up in human food.
The agency is seeking public comments on a request to deregulate corn that is designed to produce a special enzyme, making it easier to convert into ethanol.
In its draft environmental assessment released earlier this month, the department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service concluded that the corn, developed by Syngenta Seeds Inc., is safe.
"The scientific evidence indicates that there are unlikely to be any environmental, human health or food safety concerns associated with the GE corn," the agency said in a written statement Monday.
Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, says the alpha-amylase gene inserted into the corn could trigger allergies in people exposed to the crop.
"They intend it to be used just for ethanol, but it's also going to end up in the food supply," Freese said. "This is the first crop proposed for industrial use, and in a widely used food crop, we need to be extremely cautious."
The department will review any comments submitted by the Jan. 20, 2009, deadline to determine whether its safety assessment should change.
Deregulation of the genetically engineered corn would allow it to be grown anywhere without permits or other regulatory oversight from the Agriculture Department.
Demand for biofuels like ethanol is soaring because of federal mandates requiring the United States to use 9 billion gallons of alternative fuel annually by 2009. The mandates have also been criticized by groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association, who blame the use of crops for ethanol production for rising food prices.
About 30 percent of the nation's corn crop goes to ethanol production.
The genetically engineered corn would help ethanol makers lower production costs, said Anne Burt, spokeswoman for Switzerland's Syngenta AG, the parent corporation of Syngenta Seeds,
"There is a substantial reduction of water and energy needed to produce ethanol," Burt said. "We're talking about a much improved carbon footprint over standard ethanol production processes."
The Food and Drug Administration last year concluded that the enzyme is safe for human and animal consumption.