GMO Corn for Ethanol: Incoming Raw Materials Plans More Important Than Ever

Syngenta has developed a GMO variety of corn called Enogen, which is designed for the ethanol fuel industry.  Enogen is genetically-altered to produce its own heat-tolerant enzyme to help break down starch in corn, an important initial step in ethanol production.  Traditionally, corn is blended with a purchased liquid form of this enzyme during ethanol production, and now, this is no longer necessary.

Corn that already has high levels of heat-stable enzyme to digest starch might be great for ethanol, but poses a huge problem for the food and feed industries.  Corn milling for food would be very challenging, if not impossible – starches that are already degraded would result in “crumbly corn chips, soggy cereals and corn bread.”

Starch is also an important binder in extruded, shaped products, such as pet foods and fish feeds.  In addition, easily-digested corn is problematic for ruminants, such as dairy animals.  Dairy cattle are often fed corn silage, steam-flaked corn, or cracked corn, and can easily suffer from a condition called acidosis, or more troubling, sub-acute ruminal acidosis.  Acidosis occurs when fermentation in the rumen drives pH to abnormally low levels, and is typically brought on by over consumption of grains.  Corn containing a starch-degrading enzyme would enhance fermentation, further lowering pH in the rumen and increasing the likelihood of acidosis.

It is true that steps are being taken to segregate Enogen from other types of corn.  However, if history is any indication, this will be challenging.  StarLink GMO corn was unapproved for human consumption, but wound up in over 300 food products anyway.  Likewise, Liberty Link GMO rice was found in food products even though this was not intended.

So, what can be done?  If you don’t already have one, now is the time to implement an incoming raw materials plan.  This should be specific to your operation, but should consist of a written plan for how to deal with every ingredient and packaging material that you receive.  In the case of Enogen, Syngenta has developed testing kits that can be used to test for the presence of their particular starch enzyme.  The importance of such sampling and testing would become clear if a new batch of corn suddenly prevented you from making any salable products, or resulted in the deaths of dairy cows from acute acidosis.

As more and more variations on “commodity” ingredients come to market, take steps now to protect your operation by implementing an incoming raw materials plan.

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