The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (UDSA’s) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has issued a determination of nonregulated status for a corn variety genetically engineered (GE) to facilitate ethanol production.

Developed by Syngenta Seeds, Inc., Event 3272 or Enogen™ corn produces a microbial enzyme that, according to the petition for deregulation, is “unlikely to pose a plant pest risk and, therefore, should not be a regulated article under APHIS’ regulations in 7 CFR part 340.” After reviewing the scientific data and soliciting public feedback on a draft environmental assessment, APHIS has agreed that this variety of GE corn “should be granted nonregulated status” as of February 15, 2011. See Federal Register, February 15, 2011.

Meanwhile, corn millers and other food industry interests have reportedly criticized the decision, telling The New York Times that cross-pollination with food-grade corn “could lead to crumbly corn chips, soggy cereal, loaves of bread with soupy center and corn dogs with inadequate coatings.” Because Enogen™ corn is designed to break down corn starch into sugar—a process previously handled at ethanol plants—the variety is intended “solely for industrial purposes.” But the North American Millers’ Association (NAMA) has raised concerns that any co-mingling “will have significant adverse impacts on food product quality and performance,” as well as disrupt exports. “USDA has failed to provide the public with sufficient scientific data on the economic impacts of contamination on food production, or information on how USDA will ensure Syngenta’s compliance with a stewardship plan,” NAMA President Mary Waters was quoted as saying. See North American Millers’ Association Press Release and The New York Times, February 11, 2011.

These objections have since caught the attention of consumer advocates such as the Center for Food Safety (CFS), which has already threatened legal action. “The resemblance to StarLink is uncanny,” stated CFS Science Policy Analyst Bill Freese in a February 11, press release referencing a 2000 incident in which unapproved GE corn entered the human food supply. “Much like StarLink, Syngenta’s biofuels corn poses allergy concerns and is not meant for human food use. It’s hard to believe that USDA has forgotten the substantial harm StarLink caused to farmers and the U.S. food industry, but apparently it has.”