The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Friday it would deregulate industrial corn that is genetically engineered for ethanol production, saying the crop does not pose a plant risk.

Syngenta Seeds, which developed the corn, said its Enogen seed would be available for the upcoming season for a small number of growers and by 2012 for larger scale commercial planting under contracted, closed production.

The corn had previously been found by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be safe to eat, but it is an industrial crop, intended to cut the cost of ethanol production. The corn is genetically engineered to produce an enzyme that speeds the breakdown of starch into sugar, which would increase efficiency in making the biofuel.

The fear of groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists is that it will contaminate corn grown for food.

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

Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, wrote on his group’s website,  “Syngenta’s biofuels corn will inevitably contaminate food-grade corn, and could well trigger substantial rejection in our corn export markets, hurting farmers.”

Food processors are also concerned about the cost of monitoring their corn supplies for contamination, UCS noted. Syngenta acknowledges that processors will have to test food supply corn, forcing millers to cover that cost.

Syngenta Seeds maintains the corn will reduce the amount of water, energy and chemicals used to make ethanol; a third of all corn grown in the U.S. already goes to ethanol production. David Morgan, president of Syngenta Seeds, said in a statement, “The adoption of Enogen grain by U.S. ethanol producers can unleash a cascade of efficiency and environmental benefits industrywide.”

The Center for Food Safety argued that “it is irresponsible to engineer corn for fuel use at a time when massive diversion of corn to ethanol has played a significant role in raising food prices and thus exacerbating world hunger.” 

In the wake of recent announcements that USDA was deregulating genetically engineered  alfalfa and  partially deregulating GE sugar beets, UCS’s Mellon said,  “The USDA has placed the interests of the biotechnology industry over the interests of food processors and the general public. The agency’s priorities are upside down. Food is far more important than ethanol. USDA needs to stop throwing the food industry under the biotechnology bus.”

  • Doc Mudd

    “UCS’s Mellon said, “The USDA has placed the interests of the biotechnology industry over the interests of food processors and the general public.”
    Nonsense, Mellon. USDA cautiously permits technological progress to benefit the general public, over the hateful anti-technology, anti-agriculture agendas of organized fearmonger lobbies and their mouthy brainwashed/brain-dead minions.
    Down with ignorant scaremongers. Hurrah for human progress, bravo for USDA!

  • gary

    Doc Mudd, you are seriously mistaken.

  • Suka Madek

    There was a movie many years ago that had a song which went something like this; “whatever Lola wants, Lola gets” the song could just as well go “Whatever ethanol wants, Ethanol gets”. As long as the congress is full of Dummies like Grassley, Harkin, Franken, etc. there is no hope for the taxpayer

  • Dinah Everett Snyder

    It appears that the USDA along with the FDA has placed public health and food safety on the back burner while aligning themselves with their true masters, the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries, which have developed such an elaborate co existance that they are now interchangeable and should be seen as the merged empire that they have become, at the expense of public health and food safety.
    The callous disregard of our federal agencies towards legitimate public concern is staggering.
    There is a massive conflict of interest that needs to be addressed urgently and with all of the “special interest” money now filling the coffers of our elected officials and flowing through the corridors of congress it is not likely that the conflict of interest will be addressed with any integrity or the backing of Real Science, which appears to have lost it’s way!
    Dinah Everett Snyder.

  • Doc Mudd

    Ah, yes; the ‘special interest groups’ and the money.
    When scaremongering and paranoia are evident in any campaign I always begin my investigation of moneyed special interests right here:
    Usually provides the perspective I need to begin winnowing the wheat from the fearmongering chaff.

  • Dinah Everett Snyder

    On the contrary Doc Mudd, it is when governments and organizations begin systemic campaigns of denial that you should be following the money and special interest group’s
    ” special interest”. When tax paying citizens ( such as myself) speak up and question the logic or validity of flawed public policy based on evidenciary findings which we ( I) have followed or disseminated on our ( my) own, it is curious (no?) that we ( I) am accused of ” fear mongering” or ” scare mongering” and or paranoia.
    When will people like you( accusors of the ” little people” ) begin to understand/ realize that people like me ( the ” little people” ) are not the illiterate peasants we were even 50 years ago?
    Times have changed: because of the perpetual lies and political conundrums of our ever more corrupt companies,
    ( Enron, Goldman Sachs…come to mind) govt agencies ( FDA denials: Vioxx, Avandia, Ketek…come to mind) and non profits: ( Susan G Komen for the ” non” Cure…pick a “Save the Children” and look at their financials to see who they are feeding, hint: it isn’t children, unless the children of the top 25 officials count !!!)we ( I ) am more inclined to want the pesky ” proof” and true caution…that of non contamination of our food supply with artificial , lab grown homilies that may look like corn but act like fuel with the DNA to prove it.
    So! mister mudd sir, you say ” USDA cautiously permits technological progress”… are you in fact saying that the USDA now controls the direction of the wind in farming country that you can guarantee such a bold statement as
    ” permits cautious”…
    another idiot on the side of ” progress at all cost”.
    See, it’s that ” at all cost” that has regular folks ( like me) pissed off at “intellectual brain farts” like yourself.
    While it is well within your right to eat ethanol corn I’d like the choice to choose not to. Your notion of ” cautious”
    and “permits” therfore infringes on my rights and definition of ” cautious”.
    Once unleashed, one cannot turn back the evolutionary dial in the way that unleashing a dangerous drug on the public can be recalled ….
    Dinah Everett Snyder