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February 11, 2011 

Deregulating Genetically Engineered Industrial Corn Will Contaminate Food Supply Corn and Harm U.S. Food Industry

WASHINGTON (February 11, 2011) – Over the objections of scientists, food millers and food processors, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced it will deregulate the first genetically engineered industrial corn crop, commonly called ethanol corn. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), allowing farmers to plant engineered ethanol corn will contaminate corn intended for food, which could have serious consequences for the U.S. food industry.

Approximately a third of all corn grown across the country is currently used for ethanol production. If the ethanol corn variety were widely adopted for industrial purposes, farmers could plant ethanol corn on tens of millions of acres, making contamination a virtual certainty.

“The USDA’s decision defies common sense,” said Margaret Mellon, director of UCS’s Food and Environment Program. “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.”

The corn in question, Syngenta Seeds Corn Variety 3272, is genetically engineered to produce a synthetic enzyme called alpha-amylase that breaks down starch into sugar, which is necessary for ethanol production. Ethanol corn is an industrial product solely intended to cut the cost of ethanol production.

The alpha-amylase enzyme is designed to break down starch under numerous conditions, including high temperatures, and that can cause major problems -- including shelf-life and quality -- for a wide variety of corn-based foods. Industry data show that only one ethanol corn kernel in 10,000 is enough to affect viscosity in standard food processes. Contamination could cause corn snack food to be too fluffy to fit in a standard bag, corn batter to be too thin to coat corn dogs, and corn bread to be too soggy in the middle.

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

“The USDA has placed the interests of the biotechnology industry over the interests of food processors and the general public,” said Mellon, a molecular biologist. “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.”


The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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