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Feds OK ethanol-specific corn trait

Federal officials on Friday signed off on the first ever corn trait specifically geared toward ethanol production.

Officials with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said Friday a genetically modified corn trait that triggers enzyme expression -- a step that could streamline ethanol production -- is of no greater risk than conventional or other corn traits or varieties.

"APHIS conducted a plant pest risk assessment and found this line of corn does not pose a plant pest risk, and should no longer be subject to regulation by APHIS," said Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator for APHIS' biotechnology regulatory services, in an APHIS report.  "APHIS' deregulation decision is based on the findings of our plant pest risk assessment and environmental assessment."

The trait, developed by Syngenta, "enables expression of an optimized alpha-amylase enzyme directly in corn," will ease the transition to dry-grind ethanol production with today's infrastructure, according to a company report. The trait is currently marketed in seed corn under the company's new Enogen label.

The ramifications of the trait's approval for production reach beyond just the ethanol industry, says Syngenta Chief Operating Officer Davor Pisk.

"Enogen corn seed offers growers an opportunity to cultivate a premium specialty crop. It is a breakthrough product that provides U.S. ethanol producers with a proven means to generate more gallons of ethanol from their existing facilities," Pisk says in a company report. "Enogen corn also reduces the energy and water consumed in the production process while substantially reducing carbon emissions."

Looking ahead, Emogen corn varieties will be available for production this year, company officials say. The coming growing season will also see Syngenta working together with ethanol plants and nearby farmers to "prepare for larger scale commercial introduction" next year.

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