A new variety of GM corn has been approved by the USDA

A genetically modified (GM) corn variety developed exclusively for ethanol use in fuel was approved last week by Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, amidst a chorus of food manufacturers concerned the biotech corn will contaminate non-GMO crops.

Enogen is what manufacturer Syngenta has named the corn, which contains an enzyme that decreases the cost in converting the grain into fuel. At the heart of the controversy is anxiety that the engineered enzyme also makes corn unsuitable for consumption. Though Syngenta insists the corn will not be grown in proximity of food crops, fears are already bubbling of a recurrence of the 2000 StarLink incident, where GM corn meant only for livestock found its way into human food causing severe allergic reactions in dozens of people.

Though the crop was approved as safe for consumption in 2007 based on research submitted by Syngenta, biotech manufacturers including Monsanto and Syngenta are legally allowed to restrict independent research of their seeds because the seeds are engineered—they’re patentable inventions, which gives the manufacturer broad power and protection over their invention, including what research will be allowed, and by whom.

According to Syngenta’s chief operating officer, Davor Pisk, Enogen  “is a breakthrough product that provides U.S. ethanol producers with a proven means to generate more gallons of ethanol from their existing facilities.”

Opposition of Enogen includes Mardi Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group critical of biotechnology. Mellon called the approval “amazing and outrageous.”  She said the USDA “has chosen the unproven benefits of the ethanol corn over the real concerns of a major American food industry—the corn refiners and processors.”

Secretary Vilsack and the USDA have come under a great amount of scrutiny just in the last several weeks after the deregulation of GM alfalfa and the partial deregulation of GM sugar beets in advance of a complete Environmental Impact Statement report not expected until May 2012.

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Photo: chidorian