News / Economy

Genetically-Modified Maize Threatens Crunchy Snack Chips

Variety intended for ethanol could make cereal soggy and chips crumbly

The snack industry says the crunch in its chips is threatened by an enzyme that's been genetically engineered into maize.
The snack industry says the crunch in its chips is threatened by an enzyme that's been genetically engineered into maize.

Multimedia

Audio

A new type of genetically-modified maize intended for ethanol biofuel production has won approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The biofuels industry welcomes this new GM maize, created by the agriculture giant Syngenta. But opposition is coming from an unusual source - snack food makers.

Maize-based snacks are a $6 billion business in the U.S. And the snack industry says the crunch of their chips is threatened by an enzyme genetically engineered into Syngenta's new maize.

Easier ethanol

The enzyme, known as alpha amylase, breaks down starch into sugar, which is then fermented into ethanol.

According to Syngenta, having the enzyme built into the maize will help produce more ethanol while consuming less water and energy, which in turn will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A 2007 U.S. law requiring gasoline to be blended with renewable fuels has driven up demand for ethanol. This year, 40 percent of the U.S. maize crop went to ethanol production.

Soggy cereal, crumbly chips

But what is good for producing ethanol is not good for everyone.

"We don't produce ethanol. We produce food products," says Mary Waters, president of the North American Millers Association, one of five major food industry groups that are, in their words, "deeply disappointed" with USDA's decision to approve the crop without restrictions.

They are not worried about food safety. In a joint statement, they noted they have supported other genetically-engineered crops.

The worry, Waters says, is that Syngenta's starch-busting maize could turn cereal soggy, snack chips crumbly or hurt other processed foods if even a tiny amount ends up in the human food chain.

"It would only take one kernel in 10,000 to affect food processing," she says.

History of contamination

And it would not be the first time a genetically-modified product wound up where it did not belong. Unapproved GM maize turned up in the food supply in 2001, as did unapproved rice in 2006. Estimates vary widely, but the financial losses from these contamination cases ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The contaminated maize did not cause health problems. "But it did cause major disruptions in the availability of food grade [maize]," says Jim McCarthy, president of the Snack Food Association. "So, we do think this will have a major impact and we're urging Syngenta to rethink this."

Not a 'major issue'

"I don't really believe that there's much probability that there's going to be any kind of major issue with misdirection of the grain," Syngenta's Jack Bernens says.

Bernens says the company will only sell the seeds to farmers who will deliver the crop to nearby ethanol plants. And they will not sell seed near where food facilities get their maize.

Besides, Bernens says, the chance that a few stray kernels would create big problems is overblown. He says the enzyme is most active at specific conditions of temperature, moisture and alkalinity that are different from most food processing.

"We've done a lot of work in that area," he says, "and for the most part, the processes don't come together under those conditions that would equal the most activity."

'Restrictive' access to information

The Snack Food Association's Jim McCarthy would like to see that research, but he says Syngenta won't share the data without strict conditions.

"There have been some very restrictive allocations of data to this point," he says. "And that's one of the major concerns we have."

Syngenta originally offered the trade groups access to their evidence, but only if they backed the company's application to the USDA for approval. The trade groups rejected that offer. Then Syngenta said they could have the data and samples to test, but only if they signed a confidentiality agreement.

The company says that's standard business practice to protect trade secrets. But it didn't sit well the North American Millers Association's Mary Waters.

"We can't have access to information predicated on support no matter what, and an inability to share it with our scientists," she says. "All we care about is the science."

Syngenta notes that it has provided access to information to some in the industry who did sign confidentiality agreements. And the company is setting up an advisory council with members across the industry to resolve any contentious issues.

But the food groups are not satisfied. They say they are now considering a lawsuit to protect the crunch of their chips.

You May Like

British Fighters On Frontline of ISIS Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign Jihadists More

Audio Hit Song Delivers Ebola Message in Liberia

'Ebola in Town' has danceable beat, while also delivering serious message about avoiding infection More

Video New Technology Gives Surgeons Unprecedented Views of Patients’ Bodies

Technology offers real-time, interactive, medical visualization and is multi-dimensional More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7492
JPY
USD
102.27
GBP
USD
0.5960
CAD
USD
1.0950
INR
USD
61.300

Rates may not be current.