Five major U.S. trade associations whose member companies store, handle, process and export corn and corn products say they are deeply disappointed in the decision by the USDA to deregulate without conditions a new biotechnology-enhanced corn trait engineered to enhance ethanol production.

In a joint statement, the organizations urged USDA to reconsider its decision and called on USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the corn trait (Event 3272), developed by Syngenta Seeds Inc., which produces a microbial enzyme – alpha amylase – in the corn endosperm to increase the output of ethanol from other corn.  During the interim period while such a comprehensive analysis is being conducted, the groups urged APHIS to retain its regulatory oversight of the biotech corn’s production and distribution. 

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

“We believe USDA failed in its first opportunity to devise a policy that would be appropriate for biotech-enhanced traits whose unique properties are functionally different from other biotech or conventional commodities, ” the organizations say.  “We do not believe USDA’s decision adequately considers the impact on food and feed processing that will result if this particular biotech corn, through pollination or other means, becomes commingled in the general commodity stream.”  

The groups note that the Food and Drug Administration announced in August 2007 that its review of food and feed safety data provided by Syngenta did not raise food or feed safety concerns requiring pre-market review and approval of the ethanol corn if it inadvertently was channeled to non-ethanol uses.  But the organizations also say that during an April 2010 presentation, Syngenta conceded that one kernel of the alpha amylase corn in 10,000 kernels would be sufficient to cause significant negative impacts on food product quality.  The alpha amylase enzyme present in the ethanol biotech corn could cause food products such as corn chips, tortilla chips and breakfast cereals to break down and crumble into fine particles.  It also could have adverse impacts on the viscosity of flour used to make breads and batters.  In this regard, the groups also are critical of Syngenta for not sharing adequate data or analysis of the corn trait so that marketers and users of corn could fully assess its adverse impact on food and feed manufacturing.

“We believe retaining USDA regulatory oversight and jurisdiction would have been a much more appropriate policy decision for alpha amylase corn,” the organizations say.  “We urge USDA to reconsider, and to commit to conducting a comprehensive analysis of Event 3272, rather than the less comprehensive environmental assessment done thus far.  We also will be holding Syngenta fully accountable for implementing its stewardship plan to maintain and vigilantly oversee a stringent chain-of-custody and contracting arrangements with growers to ensure this corn is directed only to ethanol uses.”

The groups say they will be considering additional steps that may be pursued as a result of USDA’s decision.