By Jim Webster

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 – USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said Friday that it will deregulate corn that contains an enzyme called alpha-amylase that breaks down starch into sugar and facilitates a vital step in ethanol production. Like its decisions last month to deregulate biotech alfalfa and last week to partially deregulate biotech sugar beets, APHIS made the finding that since the Syngenta biotech trait does not pose a plant pest risk, regulation is no longer needed.

Syngenta Seeds filed a petition for nonregulated status for its Enogen brand alpha-amylase corn in 2005 and APHIS prepared both a plant pest risk assessment and an environmental assessment that were made public for review. APHIS said it received more than 13,000 comments.

The agency said that it recognized that corn milling and food-processing groups have concern about the corn variety’s potential impacts on milling operations, adding, “We are pleased that these segments of industry continue to dialogue with Syngenta on research and testing efforts, and encourage these parties to continue their efforts to resolve the issues that remain.”

The North American Millers’ Association said immediately that it is disappointed with the decision. “USDA 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. “If it should enter the food processing stream, the same function that benefits ethanol production will damage the quality of food products like breakfast cereals, snack foods, and battered products,” the millers’ group statement said.

NAMA President Mary Waters added, “USDA has failed to provide the public with sufficient scientific data on the economic impacts of contamination on food production, or information on how USDA will ensure Syngenta’s compliance with a stewardship plan.”

APHIS said that Syngenta “committed to several important steps to address some stakeholder concerns, such as forming an industry advisory council to review the closed loop system the company has in place for amylase corn.” It added that USDA has agreed to participate with the council. “Syngenta is also willing to share information on amylase corn production, within appropriate legal and privacy limits, with members of the advisory council,” APHIS said.

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