Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ethanol Corn Approved

On February 11th, the U.S. agriculture Department made it possible for farmers to plant corn that will be specifically for boosting ethanol production. The genetically modified seed, Enogen, will produce alpha-amylase (an enzyme that can rapidly break down starch into sugar). This approval will allow farmers to generate more gallons of ethanol than previously.

Since 2005 the USDA has been conducting assessments on the seed. They looked at the effects on both the environment and the plant pest risk. They have deemed that the type of corn "should no longer be subject to regulation."

However, grain millers and food manufactures are worried. While the amylase trait was deemed in 2007 to be safe for use in foods, they are worried that it will affect the quality and shelf-life of the products. They fear that the amylase trait in Enogen will be able to escape and then co-mingle with the corn intended for human consumption. According to the North American Millers' Association, "if the amylase trait enters the food processing stream, it will damage the quality of breakfast cereals, snack foods, and battered products."

Data shows that just one kernel of Enogen out of 10,000 is enough to affect the viscosity in food processes. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) "contamination could cause corn snack foods to be too fluffy to fit in a standard bag, corn batter to be too thin to coat corn dogs, and corn bread to be too soggy in the middle."

The company that manufactures Enogen is working to limit the number of ethanol plants and corn growers for the current year. They will be preparing for large-scale commercial planting of Enogen corn in 2012. According to the company, Syngenta, they will manage the production of Enogen corn by using a contracted, closed production system.

According to the UCS "there is no way to protect food corn crops from contamination by ethanol corn. Even with the most stringent precautions, the wind will blow and standards slip."
A bill passed by Congress in 2007, Renewable Fuel Standard, requires the consumption of 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022. Ethanol from corn is expected to supply close to 15 billion gallons of the total 36 million.

1 comment:

  1. There seem to be a lot of potential issues with this. Since corn is wind pollinated, it seems likely that the gene will spread into non-ethanol crops. It is not immediately clear how this will impact the food storage qualities, but this is something that should be researched further. More significantly, there are many who question whether corn ethanol production is actually a beneficial biofuel since the energy yield is not that great, and it places food production and fuel production in competition. Many would argue that we should be pursuing other options for biofuels other than corn ethanol.