Industry responds to corn amylase approval

by World Grain Staff
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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Reaction from industry trade groups was mixed following Syngenta’s announcement on Feb. 11 that it has received full deregulation for its corn amylase trait from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Grain milling groups said they were disappointed, while the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) said it was pleased with the USDA’s decision.

This is the first genetically modified output trait in corn for the ethanol industry. By enabling expression of an optimized alpha-amylase enzyme directly in corn, dry grind ethanol production can be improved in a way that can be easily integrated into existing infrastructure, the company said. Syngenta will sell corn seed with the amylase trait as Enogen corn seed.

"Enogen corn seed offers growers an opportunity to cultivate a premium specialty crop. It is a breakthrough product that provides U.S. ethanol producers with a proven means to generate more gallons of ethanol from their existing facilities," said Davor Pisk, chief operating officer. "Enogen corn also reduces the energy and water consumed in the production process while substantially reducing carbon emissions."

Five U.S. trade associations whose member companies store, handle, process and export corn and corn products said they are disappointed in the decision, and urged USDA to reconsider.

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.

But the groups said they were “deeply disappointed” by USDA’s decision to totally deregulate, without conditions, the first biotech-enhanced trait intended solely for industrial use. They voiced major concerns that the product – if inadvertently commingled with general commodity corn at even very low levels – will have significant adverse impacts on food product quality and performance.

They also said the decision was particularly frustrating given APHIS’s Feb. 4 announcement to retain regulatory oversight and jurisdiction over Roundup Ready sugar beets.

"USDA has failed to provide the public with sufficient scientific data on the economic impacts of contamination on food production, or information on how USDA will ensure Syngenta's compliance with a stewardship plan," said Mary Waters, President of NAMA. Syngenta's 3272 Amylase Corn Trait contains a powerful enzyme that breaks down the starch in corn rapidly, a cost saving function for ethanol production. If it should enter the food processing stream, the same function that benefits ethanol production will damage the quality of food products like breakfast cereals, snack foods, and battered products.

"NAMA has been a strong supporter for the development of food biotechnology as a tool that can improve product quality and increase domestic production to meet growing domestic and world food demand," she continued. "With proper analysis and oversight, the introduction of output traits can be beneficial to the entire food chain."

The NCGA said corn amylase is the first output trait to be scrutinized, and the importance of output traits to growers and the industry will only increase as other traits are developed.

“All output traits will be valued-added crops that have the potential to allow growers to raise a product that could be beneficial to their farms in ways that are not possible right now,” said Chad Blindauer, chairman of NCGA’s Trade Policy and Biotechnology Action Team and a farmer in Mitchell, South Dakota, U.S. “We are pleased the U.S. regulatory system continues to provide growers with planting choices for their operations.”

Enogen corn seed will be available from the coming growing season. This year, Syngenta plans to work with a small number of ethanol plants and corn growers in close proximity and prepare for larger scale commercial introduction in 2012. Production of Enogen corn will be managed by Syngenta using a contracted, closed production system.

The corn amylase trait in Enogen has already been approved for import into Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Russia and Taiwan, and for cultivation in Canada.
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