Starlink 2? Approval of GM biofuel corn threatens food supply

By Ken Roseboro
Published: March 1, 2011

Category: GM Food Labeling and Regulations

GM corn threatens food supply

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Environmental groups, millers say Syngenta corn poses allergy risks, could harm food quality

The US Department of Agriculture’s recent approval of the first genetically modified corn for ethanol production threatens to contaminate food-grade corn and has not been properly assessed for potential adverse effects on human health, the environment, or farmers’ livelihoods, according to the Center for Food Safety (CFS).

“The USDA has once again put the special interests of the biotechnology and biofuels industries above the clear risks to our nation’s food system,” said Andrew Kimbrell, CFS executive director.

Decision defies common sense”

The GM corn—known as Event 3272 developed by biotech firm Syngenta—is genetically engineered to contain high levels of a heat-resistant and acid-tolerant enzyme called amylase derived from exotic, marine microorganisms. The enzyme breaks down starches into sugars, the first step in conversion of corn to ethanol, and has not been adequately assessed for its potential to cause allergies, a key concern with new GM crops. In fact, leading food allergists consulted by CFS indicated that Syngenta’s assessment of the potential allergenicity of this enzyme was inadequate, and called for more careful evaluation.

“The USDA’s decision defies common sense,” said Margaret Mellon, director of Union of Concerned Scientists’ 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.”

Poses allergy concerns

“It’s hard to believe that USDA has forgotten the substantial harm StarLink caused to farmers and the US food industry, but apparently it has. Much like StarLink, Syngenta’s biofuels corn poses allergy concerns and is not meant for human food use,” said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety.

StarLink was a GM corn variety approved only for animal feed because leading food allergists thought it might cause food allergies if used in human foods. StarLink contaminated the food supply in 2000-2001. Hundreds reported allergic reactions they believe were linked to StarLink. Food companies recalled over 300 corn-based products, export markets sent back StarLink-contaminated corn shipments, and farmers suffered substantial economic losses as a result.

Syngenta claims their GM corn won’t contaminate food corn, but Mellon says “The idea that you could keep that synthetic amylase out of the food corn is just preposterous.”

Unlike StarLink, Event 3272 has been approved for food use.

Syngenta’s assurances of containment are not encouraging based on the company’s history. From 2001 to 2004, Syngenta accidentally sold seed of an unapproved GM corn variety (Bt10) to American farmers.

Could ruin production of corn products

The North American Millers Association (NAMA), which represents 43 major food companies including General Mills, also opposed approval of the GM corn.

“USDA has failed to provide the public with sufficient scientific data on the economic impacts of contamination on food production, or information on how USDA will ensure Syngenta’s compliance with a stewardship plan,” said Mary Waters, president of NAMA.

NAMA is concerned that contamination from Event 3272 will ruin production of foods such as corn chips or cereals, making them crumbly or soggy.

Industry data show that only one Event 3272 corn kernel in 10,000 is enough to harm standard food processes.

There is also controversy over ethanol production with opponents saying the diversion of corn to ethanol has played a significant role in raising food prices and exacerbating world hunger.

Approximately a third of all corn grown across the country is currently used for ethanol production.

Kate McMahon, biofuels campaign coordinator at Friends of the Earth, said: “This type of genetically engineered corn would have no reason to exist if it were not for the massive mandate for biofuels consumption passed by Congress in 2007.”

CFS has indicated it will take legal action to stop the GM corn.

(Sources: Center for Food Safety, Union of Concerned Scientists, Des Moines Register)

© Copyright March 2011, The Organic & Non-GMO Report