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The New York Times reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved for commercial growing “a type of corn that is genetically engineered to make it easier to convert into ethanol,” a decision that “came in the face of objections from corn millers and others in the food industry, who warned that if the industrial corn cross-pollinated with or were mixed with corn used for food, it could lead to crumbly corn chips, soggy cereal, loaves of bread with soupy centers and corn dogs with inadequate coatings.”

Some interesting notes from the story:

• “The corn, developed by Syngenta, contains a microbial gene that causes it to produce an enzyme that breaks down corn starch into sugar, the first step toward making ethanol. Ethanol manufacturers now buy this enzyme, called alpha amylase, in liquid form and add it to the corn at the start of their production process.”

• “Syngenta says that having the crop make the enzyme for its own breakdown — self-processing corn, as it were — will increase ethanol output while reducing the use of water, energy and chemicals in the production process. The company, a seed and pesticide manufacturer based in Switzerland, said it would take various measures to prevent the corn from getting into the food supply.”

• “The corn, which is called Enogen, is one of the first crops genetically engineered to contain a trait that influences use of the plant after harvest. Virtually all past biotech crops have had traits like insect resistance, aimed at helping farmers more than manufacturers or consumers. Enogen is also one of the first to be engineered solely for industrial purposes.”

The Times suggests that a lawsuit aimed at stopping growth of the new corn is likely.
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