Amylase corn sparks worries

A genetically modified (GM) variety of corn intended for ethanol production is drawing objections not only from anti-GM organizations but also from some biotech supporters. The crop, approved in February by the US Department of Agriculture, and developed by Basel-based Syngenta and marketed as Enogen, expresses an α-amylase enzyme, which helps break down the starch in corn more efficiently during ethanol production. The trait could cut costs for the ethanol industry by reducing water, energy and chemical use. But if it enters the food processing stream, it could damage corn-based food quality, resulting in sticky tortillas, dense corn puffs and gummy bread, say corn millers and food processors. Wayne Moore, a food scientist and independent consultant hired to review Syngenta’s data by the North American Millers’ Association in Washington, DC, says, “I’m concerned that if it gets into food processing it could cause some serious problems.” A Syngenta spokesperson said there is validity to the Millers’ Association complaints. “I think they have a legitimate concern,” says Jack Bernens, head of technology acceptance at Syngenta. Bernens adds, however, that the probability of amylase corn getting into the food supply is “very, very low.” In its proposed voluntary containment plan Syngenta says growers will sign contracts that specify how the corn will be transported and how delivery and harvest equipment will be cleaned. Farmers will not be allowed to grow amylase corn within certain distances—usually 40 miles—of food corn mills. The supply of seed will be limited at first to growers working within the vicinity of certain ethanol plants, and will ramp up slowly. Syngenta’s plan “looks good on paper,” says Moore, “but I don’t know that it’s going to work in practice.”

source: nature biotechnology