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Union of Concerned Scientists Says No to GMO Corn for Biofuel

cornCorn-based ethanol has fallen from favor in the past year amid reports that corn ethanol has a heavier carbon footprint than originally thought. Now a new debate looms over whether the U.S. should allow genetically altered corn to be grown for use as biofuel.

The Union of Concerned Scientists says no, arguing that genetically modified corn will inevitably mix with and contaminate corn grown for food products. Syngenta, a multi-national company that has readied a new genetically modified corn intended for ethanol production, has already applied for permission to sell its corn seed in the U.S., telling officials that it would control where the crops are grown so the GMO corn would not mix with the food supply.

Their newly developed “Corn Amylase” contains a protein that breaks down corn starch under high temperatures and could reduce the cost of ethanol production. The new protein has not been present in the food system, and would not have to be approved for human consumption.

If Syngenta’s voluntary methods of keeping the corn out of the food supply fail, people could be unwittingly exposed to the new protein, which is derived from organisms living near hot sea vents.

For these reasons, the Union of Concerned Scientists has urged the USDA to ban outdoor production of the new corn, as well as “any other food crop genetically engineered to produce pharmaceutical or industrial substances.”

Dr. Mercola's Comments:
While corn-based ethanol has been all the rage in alternative fuels in recent years, the tide seems to be turning. From 2002 to 2007, data from the Renewable Fuels Association shows demand for ethanol more than tripled between 2002 and 2007, growing from about 2 billion gallons per year in 2002 to over 6.5 billion gallons per year in 2007.

Growth continued in 2008, however there has been a backlash from scientists and environmental groups who say biofuels like corn ethanol actually increase greenhouse gas emissions while threatening global stocks of food grains and edible oils. Even the recent stimulus plan slashed $200 million that was meant to help retrofit cornstarch ethanol facilities to produce fuel from other inedible plants.

And now, in comes Syngenta, a giant agribusiness, with a new GM corn product to the rescue. Their “Corn Amylase” contains a protein derived from organisms living near hot sea vents that is supposed to break down cornstarch under high temperatures and help reduce the cost of ethanol production.

Why might this be a disaster in the making?

Two Major Reasons Why Scientists Oppose GM Corn for Biofuel

On the one hand, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) points out efforts should be made to move away from using corn for ethanol in the first place, and toward plants that produce fewer greenhouse gases and don’t use up valuable crop land needed for food production. Said Dr. Jane Rissler, a plant pathologist with the UCS:

“We should be moving away from corn for ethanol and trying to get it from non-food crops; get it from switch grass instead of corn, and cellulose instead of food crops.”

Meanwhile, there is an even bigger issue at hand with Syngenta’s Corn Amylase, and that is its potential to contaminate food crops with a strange new protein never intended for use in the food supply.

Syngenta, of course, states their GM corn will be “produced and managed in such a way as to avoid the product entering the broad commodity grain streams.”

Oh really?

History would say otherwise. Here is just a short list of the many instances experimental GM crops -- crops never intended to be in the food supply -- ended up cross-contaminating non-GM crops and entered the food chain:

• In 2001, a CBC (Canada) radio broadcast (6/2/01) reported GM canola plants were showing up in farmers' fields all across the Canadian prairie, even though many of them never planted GM seeds.

• In 2002, drug-producing transgenic corn made by ProdiGene Inc. started appearing in soybean fields in Nebraska and Iowa. The U.S. government seized 500,000 bushels of soybeans, and fined ProdiGene almost $3 million.

• In 2006, small amounts of an experimental genetically engineered rice, LLRICE 601, appeared in commercial long-grain rice shipments earmarked for Europe.

• In 2008, farmers in five states sued Bayer after trace amounts of their experimental modified rice being grown in Louisiana were found in rice raised for consumption.

Contamination between GM and non-GM crops is generally acknowledged to be unavoidable, as really what can stop wind, tornadoes or other weather from blowing or transporting GM pollen or seeds over onto non-GM crops?

Not a whole lot.

So the fact that Syngenta’s Corn Amylase has not been approved for human consumption should be a major red flag that it should NOT be planted at all. As Rissler said:

 “We’ve had 20 years of history with USDA and industry and they [Syngenta] are not going to be able to keep it out of the food supply. You can’t grow millions of acres of one type of corn without having other corn (growing) nearby.”

Are You Aware of the Health Risks of GM Foods?

Even if it Corn Amylase HAD been approved for food use, I still wouldn’t want any part of it. The risks of GM components in your food, whether they got their via cross-contamination or by scientists in a lab, are just too high.

There have been no safety studies conducted that prove GM foods are safe. To the contrary, dicing and splicing the components of your food supply into never-before-introduced combinations has been found to:

Cause cancer
• Contribute to food allergies
• Possibly cause damage to your immune system
• Create super-viruses

Why are these products still on the market (and in the United States, making up the vast majority -- 75 percent -- of processed foods)? Because there’s money to be made with them, and because it’s difficult to link health problems directly to them, in large part because many of the side effects happen over time.

This is not to say that no links have been made. It’s been proven, for instance, that bacteria in your gut can take up DNA from GM food, that GM peas caused lung damage in mice, and GM potatoes lead to cancer in rats.

Only time will reveal, as Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception, points out in this excellent video, the extent of the unforeseen and surprising illnesses caused by GM foods.

So let’s hope the USDA makes the smart move and decides to ban the production of GM corn for the industrial purpose of making biofuel. A decision is expected to be reached this summer.

You can browse through tips to reduce your and your family’s exposure to GM foods in this past article. You can also download this Non-GMO Shopping Guide, which uses information from the Center for Food Safety and Institute for Responsible Technology that you can get for free.

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