Syngenta: Corn amylase is no StarLink

by Josh Sosland
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WAYZATA, MINN. ¬— Comparisons between Alpha Amylase Corn Event 3272 and StarLink are inappropriate, said Jack Bernens, head of Technology Acceptance, Syngenta Seeds, Inc., Wayzata.

Mr. Bernens’ comments followed coverage of milling industry objections to Syngenta’s petition to deregulate corn amylase, to be marketed under the Enogen brand.

“This is not a StarLink whatsoever, and it is misleading to make that comparison,” he said. “StarLink was a very unique situation — a genetically modified commodity corn not approved for human consumption. There was zero tolerance in food for StarLink. Amylase on the other had is a specialty crop. It is not to be grown as a commodity crop at all. In addition, it is safe for food and feed.”

StarLink was a bioengineered variety of pest-resistant corn marketed by Aventis Crop Sciences for use as animal feed. When the variety was discovered in food channels, its sale eventually was discontinued. Mills were required to test for the presence of StarLink for several years afterward.

Milling industry representatives complained to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that corn amylase could wreak havoc with food manufacturing facilities and suggested Syngenta withheld research data on the subject.

While acknowledging that physical copies of research papers prepared by Syngenta were not distributed at meetings with the millers, Mr. Bernens said the findings in the papers were fully and openly disseminated. He said the decision to hold back on distribution was to assure data would not be mischaracterized.

“We have wanted to and continue to have dialogue,” he said. “We want to do this right. We want to bring value to ethanol without disrupting other parts of the industry. We have tried to be very transparent.”

Asked whether this desire would lead Syngenta to recommend delay of the deregulation process, Mr. Bernens said deregulation has nothing to do with the issues with the millers.

“We would not support a delay of the deregulation,” he said. “These are commercial issues that have nothing to do with the deregulation process. We think the best way to deal with that is business-to-business dialogue. The key criteria for deregulation have been met — the Food and Drug Administration has said it is safe as conventional corn for humans and animals and APHIS (the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) has said it is not a plant pest.”

While functionality issues may be fair to raise, Mr. Bernens said the risk is quite low. He cited analysis from Will J. Duensing, a retired corn miller.

“What you’ll see in Will’s analysis, is that it takes the right combinations of heat, moisture, time and pH to make the enzyme most active,” he said. “In the vast majority of the processes, those conditions don’t come together to create the highest enzyme activity. Anything that may be misdirected would be at levels low enough that would not adversely affect the functionality of corn products.

“We’re producing this in a closed loop system with track and trace procedures. Our models showed that even if 1% of the production would escape, which we strongly believe would not take place, but even in this worst case, the level of concentration that would be expected to reach a dry mill facility would be well below the concentration level that would cause a functionality impact in nearly every process they have.”

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