Thursday, February 03, 2011

USDA considers approving biotech corn; millers worry it could ruin their products

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will decide soon whether to approve a form of biotech corn designed specifically for ethanol production. Corn millers are urging Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack not to approve the corn, "claiming the biotech kernels could accidentally get into the processors' grain supplies and ruin them," a fear Syngenta Seeds, maker of the biotech corn, says is unfounded, Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reports. Mixing of the kernels could result in corn chips that crumble in the bag or cereal that's soggy before it gets to your mouth, Brasher writes.

"The Syngenta product is the latest of several thorny biotech and food-safety issues that Vilsack has had to face," Brasher writes, pointing to Vilsack's approval last week of genetically engineered alfalfa. Vilsack is also expected to rule soon on production of biotech sugar beets. "Meanwhile, the demand for biotech seeds to increase crop yields has helped fuel growth at Syngenta, Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred," Brasher writes. Pioneer announced plans last month for a $32 million expansion that would add 132 jobs in Johnston, Iowa.

The millers don't question the crop's safety, but worry cross-contamination could compromise their products. The biotech corn contains an enzyme that helps break down the starch in the kernel, which would save ethanol plants in energy costs but is unsuitable for cooking into products like chips or cereal, Brasher writes. "We love biotech," Mary Waters, president of the North American Millers' Association, told Brasher. "We don't question the safety. It's just a question of can we still make the food products we make now." Syngenta spokesman Paul Minehart said there is little chance of  "the grain getting into the wrong hands, the wrong processes." (Read more)

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