On the heels of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recent decision to deregulate genetically modified alfalfa, organic advocates received another blow Friday when the agency announced it would also deregulate industrial corn used for ethanol production.
Despite objections from scientists, food millers and food processors, Syngenta Seeds, which developed the corn, received the green light to make its Enogen seed available to growers for the upcoming season and for larger scale commercial planting by 2012.
Organic advocates fear GE ethanol corn will eventually contaminate corn intended for human consumption and further threaten the organic industry.
“The USDA’s decision defies common sense,” said Margaret Mellon, director of the Food and Environment Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists in a release. “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. In this case, there are no required precautions.”
Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, wrote on the organization's website, "Syngenta's biofuel corn will inevitably contaminate food-grade corn, and could well trigger substantial rejection in our corn export markets, hurting farmers."
Shrinking corn reserves
The USDA's move may be tied to recent reports of dwindling U.S. corn supplies. Corn from the 2010 harvest shrunk to 675 million bushels, 9.4 percent lower than the January estimate of 745 million bushels, and the lowest level in 15 years, according to an article from Medill Reports.
Roughly a third of all corn grown in the U.S. is used for ethanol production. The corn produces an enzyme that speeds the breakdown of starch into sugar making it easier to produce biofuel.
Higher projected orders from the ethanol industry has caused corn futures to soar recently, but as the demand increases and supplies diminish, U.S. food companies fear the burden will fall to consumers who will experience higher food prices as a result.
Organic advocates predict deregulation will put even more burden on consumers and the food system. "Industry data show that only one ethanol corn kernel in 10,000 is enough to affect viscosity in standard food processes," according to a release from the UCS. "Contamination could cause corn snack food to be too fluffy to fit in a standard bag, corn batter to be too thin to coat corn dogs, and corn bread to be too soggy in the middle."
"The USDA has placed the interests of the biotechnology industry over the interests of food processors and the general public,” Mellon said. “The agency’s priorities are upside down. Food is far more important than ethanol. USDA needs to stop throwing the food industry under the biotechnology bus.”