Scientists, consumer groups say GE corn for ethanol will contaminate food

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Center for Food Safety (CFS) recently warned that approval of the first genetically engineered corn for ethanol would inevitably contaminate corn intended for the food and feed supply, exposing people to new engineered proteins that may pose an allergy risk.

No consideration of health, environmental impacts
Last November, the US Department of Agriculture announced its preliminary decision to grant nonregulated status to Syngenta Company’s genetically engineered ethanol corn and invited public comment on both the decision and the draft environmental assessment that details the agency's reasons for its decision.

In comments submitted to the USDA, the Union of Concerned Scientists called on the agency to ban the outdoor production of ethanol corn and all other food crops engineered for industrial or drug purposes to protect the food supply. Additionally, UCS supports moving beyond corn—engineered or not—as a biofuel source because it may contribute to, rather than reduce, global warming pollution and because alternative sources can be obtained in a more responsible and sustainable manner.

“The Bush administration’s USDA rushed this GE corn to the brink of approval without giving any serious consideration to its potential impacts on human health, the environment, or the economy,” said Bill Freese, CFS science policy analyst. “Syngenta’s biofuels corn will inevitably contaminate food-grade corn, and likely trigger substantial rejection in our corn export markets, hurting farmers. We urge the Obama administration to give this first-ever GE industrial crop a careful and thorough assessment before making a final decision.”

Certainly contaminate food supply
Syngenta, a multi-national pesticide company, developed the ethanol corn to reduce the costs of producing ethanol from corn kernels. The corn—known as Event 3272—is genetically engineered to contain high levels of a heat-resistant and acid-tolerant enzyme derived from exotic marine microorganisms. This enzyme has not been adequately assessed for its potential to cause allergies, a key concern with new GE crops, and could also have negative impacts on soil carbon cycling.

If grown at the scale Syngenta intends, the new corn would certainly contaminate the food supply, according to UCS scientists. As a result, people would wind up consuming these new proteins, which have never been in food and were never intended for human consumption. Absent this history of human exposure, scientists are uncertain if these new proteins will produce allergic reactions.

Trade groups and companies involved in milling, refining, and exporting corn, including the Corn Refiners Association, National Grain and Feed Association, North American Export Grain Association, and North American Millers’ Association, also opposed USDA approval of this GE corn, citing concerns that its engineered protein could damage food products such as breakfast cereals and snack foods and disrupt exports of such products.

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report March 2009