The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Battle begins over deregulation of amylase corn

The Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced today its decision to deregulate corn genetically engineered to produce a common enzyme called alpha-amylase that breaks down starch into sugar. It is used in ethanol production.

The deregulation means that the alpha-amylase corn, which is produced by Syngenta Seeds, Inc., can be planted without restriction. APHIS said it has found that that this line of corn does not pose a plant pest risk, and therefore should not be subject to regulation.

APHIS acknowledged that some milling and food-processing groups are concerned about this corn being deregulated and about the potential impacts on wet-milling operations, but said Syngenta has “committed to several important steps to address stakeholder concerns,” and has formed an industry advisory council to review “the closed loop system” in place for amylase corn.

The National Corn Growers Association and Growth Energy, which represents ethanol producers, both said they were pleased by the decision.
But five major U.S. trade associations whose member companies store, handle, process and export corn and corn products said they are “deeply disappointed” in the decision to deregulate the first biotech-enhanced trait intended solely for industrial use without conditions. They voiced major concerns that the product – if inadvertently comingled with general commodity corn at even very low levels – will have significant adverse impacts on food product quality and performance.

The joint statement, issued by the Corn Refiners Association, National Grain and Feed Association, North American Millers’ Association, Pet Food Institute and Snack Food Association, stressed that the organizations support agricultural biotechnology as an important tool to enhance agricultural production to help meet growing demand for food, feed, biofuels and exports. The groups urged USDA to undertake “a comprehensive analysis” of the corn and to retain regulatory oversight during that period.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said the decision “defies common sense.”

“There is no way to protect food corn crops from contamination by ethanol corn," said Margaret Mellon, director of UCS’s Food and Environment Program. "Even with the most stringent precautions, the wind will blow and standards will slip. In this case, there are no required precautions.”