The first biotech corn trait designed to help the ethanol industry has received full deregulation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Corn that produces a common enzyme called alpha-amylase will be marketed by Syngenta under the Enogen seed brand. Hybrids containing the new trait will be available for 2011 planting.
The new Enogen trait improves dry grind ethanol production. The alpha-amylase enzyme breaks down starch into sugar and helps facilitate fermentation in ethanol production.
Anything that makes ethanol more efficient would seem to be good news for agriculture and farmers, but the announcement has been met with consternation by some trade groups. A joint statement from the Corn Refiner’s Association, National Grain and Feed Association, North American Millers’ Association, Pet Food Institute and Snack Food Association, asks USDA to reconsider its decision. It also calls upon USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the corn trait (Event 3272).
The groups are concerned about inadvertent commingling of the new corn with commodity corn. Even at very low levels it is feared the new corn would have significant adverse impacts on food product quality and performance.
The Enogen corn amylase trait is the first genetically modified output trait in corn for the ethanol industry. Syngenta has committed to several important steps to address these stakeholder concerns—including forming an industry advisory council to review the closed loop system the company has in place for amylase corn.
Enogen grain will only be allowed to be cultivated by corn growers under contract with a licensed ethanol plant in their local area in a highly controlled, close production system.
According to company press releases, the grain has been tested extensively at Western Plains Energy, L.L.C. in Oakley, Kansas. Chief Executive Officer Steve McNinch says the most visible result has been an 8% increase in ethanol production combined with an 8% reduction in natural gas consumption.