New Genetically Engineered Corn Contains Proteins from Mysterious Sea Creatures

Experts say the engineered corn product will likely contaminate the food supply if authorized.

| Feb. 26, 2009

[Editor’s note: UN-BEE-LEEV-A-BLE!!! We may soon all be eating corn that contains proteins discovered in three mysterious deep-sea creatures found only near hot vents in the ocean. The Syngenta Co. has genetically engineered corn to produce the new proteins found in the mysterious creatures, and now the USDA is about to approve widespread cultivation of the new GE corn, which is intended to be used for ethanol production. Problem is, corn is wind pollinated, which means that the proteins Syngenta has added to their corn will almost certainly spread quickly and end up in everybody else’s corn.

If you prefer not to have your food contaminated with material from plants that have been engineered to produce drugs or industrial products, you need to let your congressional representatives, the secretary of agriculture and the president know ASAP. See below for more information, prepared by the Union of Concerned Scientists, on this startling genetic engineering controversy. — Cheryl Long, editor in chief]

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently closed 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, the new ethanol corn would also be the first genetically engineered industrial crop destined to be planted on millions of acres annually. Grown at such an enormous scale, the ethanol corn would inevitably contaminate corn intended for the food and feed supply, exposing people to new engineered proteins that may pose an allergy risk.

In comments submitted to the USDA, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) called on the agency to ban the outdoor production of ethanol corn and all other food crops engineered for industrial or drug purposes to protect the food supply. Additionally, UCS supports moving beyond corn — engineered or not — as a biofuel source because it may contribute to, rather than reduce, global warming pollution, and because alternative sources can be obtained in a more responsible and sustainable manner.


Last November, the USDA announced its preliminary decision to grant non-regulated status to Syngenta Company's genetically engineered ethanol corn, and invited public comment on both the decision and the draft environmental assessment that details the agency's reasons for its decision. After reviewing those comments, the USDA will decide whether to deregulate the new industrial crop. Deregulation would mean the product would no longer be subject to USDA oversight and could be grown without any restrictions at any scale in the United States.

Syngenta, a giant, multinational pesticide company, developed the ethanol corn to reduce the costs of producing ethanol from corn kernels. By engineering the crop to contain a new protein that breaks down corn starch under the high temperature phase of ethanol production, the company expects its new product to supplant the current method of using proteins derived from microbes. The genetic engineering process ensures that most of the novel protein is produced at relatively high levels in the corn kernel.

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