Wednesday, January 14, 2009

USDA Proposes First-Ever Industrial GE Crop

USDA is poised to deregulate the world’s first genetically engineered (GE) industrial crop. Similar to GE pharma crops that use corn for producing drugs, Syngenta’s “Event 3272” is genetically engineered to use corn for energy (ethanol) production and not for food. This unprecedented, industrial application of a GE technology poses a variety of environmental, health, and economic risks that must be carefully evaluated to determine whether the widespread use of this GE industrial corn crop should be allowed on farms across our nation.

In a “business as usual” move, USDA has fast-tracked the commercialization of this GE industrial corn and has forgone conducting a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS), as required by law. Instead, USDA is basing its decision to approve the industrial GE corn upon a cursory and incomplete Environmental Assessment (EA) that falls woefully short of the thorough review the public expects before a new GE crop is approved. Moreover, USDA has failed to acknowledge that this GE technology requires even greater scrutiny since it transforms a ubiquitous food crop —corn— into an industrial crop — ethanol— making it no longer fit for human consumption.

The Obama Administration’s USDA must complete a full EIS to address these concerns. The agency is accepting public comments only until January 20, 2009.

Event 3272 corn:

  • Raises serious environmental and human health concerns. It contains an exotic enzyme derived from “thermophilic” (heat-loving) microorganisms living near deep sea hydrothermal vents. This enzyme might be capable of causing food allergies in people who inadvertently consume this corn. Humans have never been exposed to this form of alpha amylase before (no history of safe use).
  • While meant for fuel and not food, this corn will enter the food supply. USDA admits that if Event 3272 corn is intentionally or accidentally diverted into the food supply, it could negatively impact food quality. But instead of reviewing the foreseeable negative impacts of biological contamination to organic and conventional corn from this unprecedented new industrial crop, USDA has improperly relied on Syngenta, the creator of the GE corn, to protect non-industrial corn from contamination. If we learned anything from the StarLink episode, it is that voluntary, industry-led agreements to curtail contamination do not work in the real world.
  • Is not needed “to help the U.S. meet its goals for ethanol production” as USDA has erroneously suggested. Ethanol production from corn surpassed the 2012 target (7.5 billion gallons) in 2007 (8.2 billion gallons)! And with 10 billion gallons of ethanol produced in 2008, we’re well on the way to achieving the mandate for 2022 without the introduction of Event 3272 corn.
  • Is engineered for fuel, not food. The dramatic worldwide surge in food prices last year – which has already pushed 100 million more of the world’s poor into hunger and poverty – has caused a radical rethinking of how biofuels are produced, especially the use of corn for ethanol. Food experts from academia to the World Bank have decried the massive diversion of corn from food to fuel, blaming it for at least part of the steep price increases in food staples like corn, wheat and rice. Event 3272 corn will only exacerbate this situation.

Tell USDA to halt this approval until a full EIS has been completed that addresses the human health, environmental, and economic impacts this industrial corn presents. USDA is accepting public comments until January 20th—Send your comment today!

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