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

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    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.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    World Currencies

    EUR
    USD
    0.8869
    JPY
    USD
    112.70
    GBP
    USD
    0.6894
    CAD
    USD
    1.3922
    INR
    USD
    68.241

    Rates may not be current.