February 5, 2009

USDA considers using GE corn for ethanol

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering approving the use of genetically engineered corn for use in manufacturing ethanol.

The Agriculture Department recently ended the public comment period for its proposal to permit, for the first time, widespread cultivation of a food crop engineered for biofuel production.

If authorized, officials said the new ethanol corn would also be the first genetically engineered industrial crop to be planted on millions of acres annually. But critics say if grown at such an enormous scale, the ethanol GE corn would inevitably contaminate corn intended for the food and feed supply, exposing people to new engineered proteins that might pose a health risk.

The Union of Concerned Scientists urged the department to ban the outdoor production of ethanol corn and all other food crops engineered for industrial or drug purposes to protect the food supply.

Last November, the Agriculture Department announced its preliminary decision to grant non-regulated status to the Syngenta Co.'s genetically engineered ethanol corn. Should the department deregulate the new industrial crop, officials said it would mean GE corn would no longer be subject to department oversight and could be grown without restrictions at any scale in the United States.

In a related action, the public comment period ends March 17 for an Agriculture Department rule that would substantially weaken oversight of all engineered crops, including pharmaceutical and industrial crops.