Syngenta seed raises biotech regulatory issues
Feb. 22, 2011
The wide range of voices raised in opposition to the deregulation of the Syngenta Seeds Inc. corn amylase trait, to be marketed as Enogen, should be a matter of considerable concern across grain-based foods. Perhaps the opposition of the milling industry alone could be downplayed as hypersensitivity following the StarLink corn debacle earlier in the decade.
The episode was frustrating and costly to corn millers who had never stood to benefit from the corn — targeted as a feed product. The Syngenta trait, which makes conversion of corn into ethanol more efficient, has been approved as safe in the food supply. Still, Enogen is not intended for food, and serious questions have been raised about whether its inadvertent entrance into non-ethanol channels even in small quantities could ruin much larger batches of corn intended for food or other industrial uses.
Despite Syngenta’s assurances that tight controls have been established to be sure Enogen will not enter the food supply, objections have been raised in recent days not only by the North American Millers’ Association, but also by the American Bakers Association, the Snack Food Association and the National Grain and Feed Association. Perhaps more telling still is the participation of the Corn Refiners Association in a group voicing disappointment over the deregulation.
Many C.R.A. members also are in the renewable fuels business, accounting for much of the ethanol production capacity in the United States. Syngenta has struck a cooperative pose, one that is difficult to reconcile with the milling industry’s assertions the company has neither been open with test data needed to make an accurate risk assessment nor been willing to demonstrate their faith in controls by providing a commercial assurance that they will cover all legitimate economic harm caused by product that is misdirected.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggested its deregulation of Enogen reflected the trait’s successful clearing of two key issues, whether the corn is safe for humans and whether it would constitute a plant pest. That the department believes it need not apply other criteria to its deregulation considerations uncovers a worrying gap in the safeguards associated with the introduction of bioengineered grains.