WASHINGTON — In a move opposed by the U.S. corn milling industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Feb. 11 said it would fully deregulate the Syngenta Seed Inc. corn amylase trait.

The trait breaks down starch into sugar and facilitates ethanol production.

“APHIS conducted a plant pest risk assessment and found this line of corn does not pose a plant pest risk, and should no longer be subject to regulation by APHIS,” said Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator for biotechnology regulatory services at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S.D.A. “APHIS’ deregulation decision is based on the findings of our plant pest risk assessment and environmental assessment.”
Syngenta first sought deregulation in 2008.

APHIS said it prepared a plant pest risk assessment as required by the Plant Protection Act and an environmental assessment in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

Syngenta said it will sell corn seed with the amylase trait as Enogen corn seed.

“Enogen is a breakthrough product that provides U.S. ethanol producers with a proven means to generate more gallons of ethanol from their existing facilities,” said Davor Pisk, chief operating officer. “Enogen corn also reduces the energy and water consumed in the production process while substantially reducing carbon emissions.”

Syntenta said Enogen corn seed will be available from the coming growing season. The company said it will work with a small number of ethanol plants and corn growers in close proximity and prepare for larger scale commercial introduction in 2012.

Production of Enogen corn will be managed by Syngenta using a contracted, closed production system, the company said.

Concerns about risks associated with this closed system prompted the North American Millers’ Association to express disappointment over the decision.

“U.S.D.A. failed to use its authority to consider the petition for deregulation as one for the production of a plant made industrial product that would have provided for a more thorough scientific review,” NAMA said. “Syngenta’s own scientific data released last month shows if this corn is co-mingled with other corn, it will have significant adverse impacts on food product quality and performance.

“U.S.D.A. has failed to provide the public with sufficient scientific data on the economic impacts of contamination on food production.”

The National Corn Growers Association, by contrast, said it was pleased with the decision.

“Corn amylase is the first processing output trait to be scrutinized by our regulatory system,” said Bart Schott, N.C.G.A. president and grower from Kulm, N.D. “The potential importance of output traits to growers and industry will only increase as other output traits are developed.”

Corn amylase is approved in Japan, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Amylase was found to be safe for food and feed by the Food and Drug Administration in 2007.