November 25, 2008

USDA close to approval of biotech corn to benefit ethanol


A new kind of corn genetically engineered to contain enzymes refiners use when they make ethanol is in the final stages of approval for the commercial market, the US Department of Agriculture said Monday (November 24).


Syngenta AG has been developing the ethanol-enhancing corn seeds for years and the USDA said Monday that the "public comment" period of the approval process has begun.


Ethanol production is made more efficient by adding enzymes that would otherwise have to be added later during fuel production.


The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, said it will make its final determination after the public feedback has been reviewed, but the agency is already convinced the corn is ready for commercial planting.


"The scientific evidence indicates that there are unlikely to be any environmental, human health or food safety concerns associated with the GE corn," APHIS said.


But APHIS is primarily concerned with the effect the corn would have on plant pests and not human health, an agency spokeswoman said.


Syngenta did submit a "feed safety and nutritional assessment summary" to the Food and Drug Administration, but the FDA decided that its approval wasn't necessary, according to a USDA Federal Register Notice.


The corn, USDA said, "did not raise safety or other issues that would require pre-market review or approval by the FDA."


After USDA approval, the agency said, the corn "could then be freely moved and planted without the requirement of permits or other regulatory oversight by APHIS."


The public has until January 20, 2009, to submit comments to the USDA.

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