A letter from Syngenta to How the World Works

Stop worrying: Genetically modifed crop "products" are "among the most tested in history"

Published February 20, 2007 4:17PM (EST)

Syngenta reads Salon, and becomes peeved:

Dear Sir/Madam

In response to the February 13 How The World Works column by Andrew Leonard. I believe it is important to clear up some of Mr. Leonard's misconceptions about Syngenta's "3272 corn" expressing amylase enzyme for ethanol production.

Corn ethanol production has seen enormous growth in the U.S. in recent years for good reason. Although scientists in government, academia and private industry (including Syngenta) are pursuing ways to create viable ethanol production from non-traditional sources such as biomass, for the foreseeable future ethanol from corn will remain our most important renewable fuel. By delivering the critical amylase enzyme directly in the grain feedstock, our plant-expressed product has the potential to make ethanol production more efficient.

Mr. Leonard states "any new transgenic corn, no matter what its ultimate purpose, must pass the same safety and health safeguards that any new crop designed specifically for human consumption must go through." Syngenta agrees: we are currently seeking full approvals for the product from U.S. regulatory agencies, demonstrating that it is safe for human and animal consumption.

Alpha-amylase enzymes occur widely in nature and have a long history of safe use for starch processing for the food industry. The Syngenta product has undergone rigorous safety evaluations following methods recommended by several regulatory authorities, the scientific community and international organizations including the World Health Organization and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Mr. Leonard further states that Syngenta has "applied for regulatory approval in New Zealand for permission to start growing" our product. This is incorrect. Syngenta is responsibly applying for regulatory approvals in certain markets to help ensure that the global commodity corn trade is not impacted by this product's anticipated entry into the U.S. market. It is solely for this reason that Syngenta has applied for approval in Australia and New Zealand, as we have in other major importing countries for U.S. corn. Our company currently has no plans to actively promote importation of corn amylase grain, or to apply for cultivation approval in Australia and New Zealand.

Syngenta believes that agricultural biotechnology can improve productivity, secure yield and produce higher quality crops. These products are among the most tested in history and are subject to rigorous regulatory review in the U.S. and globally. We are all best served when biotechnology is discussed based on the facts and on science, which Syngenta welcomes. Misinformation of the type in this column only serves to confuse, not inform.

-- Anne Burt, Media Communications, Syngenta

Upon review, yes, I did garble the point about why Syngenta was seeking regulatory approval of its transgenic corn in New Zealand. I'd be curious to know, however, if there was any other single sentence in my original post that could be construed as "misinformation." I'd guess not, or Syngenta would have been delighted to enlighten us. The basic message remains unchanged: transgenic energy crops have arrived, and transgenic corn crops optimized for ethanol production will contaminate corn meant for human food. Nowhere did I say that we are in possession of evidence of health risks from the transgenic corn products that are currently being deployed, but that doesn't mean we should stop scrutinizing every move Syngenta or Monsanto or any other profit-seeking enterprise experimenting in the creation of genetically modified life forms makes.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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