Unapproved GM starch could enter Europe unnoticed

- The company Corteva has developed a maize with a modified starch composition using new genetic engineering methods. The starch produced from this could also be sold to Europe - as a GMO-free product.

Corteva has already got the green light for commercial cultivation of its "Waxy Maize" in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Chile. According to their rules, the maize, in which some genes have been switched off with the help of CRISPR, is not considered a GMO. The maize can therefore be grown, processed and marketed without safety checks and labelling.

The grains of "waxy maize" contain only amylopectin as starch and no longer a quarter of amylose like common maize varieties. The maize starch made from it swells better in pudding powder or sachet soups and binds liquid better. Such waxy or glutinous maize without amylose, however, is not a new invention of genetic engineers; it has long existed as a GMO-free plant in Southeast Asia. There, however, it is not processed as industrial raw material, but eaten as "sticky corn".

Genetically modified maize as a test balloon

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) writes that the GM corn is primarily a test run for Corteva to clarify regulatory issues and see how the public reacts to a CRISPR plant. "This will allow us to see how customers, regulators and the public deal with this kind of innovation," CBAN quotes from a company promotional text.

The organisation GRAIN points out that conventional waxy maize in the USA is already grown as an industrial raw material, strictly separated from food maize by contract farming. For Corteva, "there is therefore minimal risk that the introduction of its genetically modified waxy maize will cause a public backlash or lead to contamination lawsuits." A successful introduction in the US sets the stage for commercial cultivation and imports in other countries where regulations for genome-edited crops are still on the move, he said.

Detection methods required

This refers in particular to the EU. The starch produced from "waxy maize" does not have to be labelled in the USA because it is considered GMO-free there and could also be imported into the EU as a raw material for processing or as an ingredient in ready meals. That would be illegal, because the GM maize does not have EU approval as food. Manufacturer Corteva has not even applied for it yet.

In order to detect such illegal imports, a testing method is needed. "The EU Commission and the member states must ensure that a detection method is available and apply it in their controls as soon as this illegal maize enters the commodity chains. The detection method for Cibus rapeseed presented by VLOG together with other organisations in 2020 shows that detection is also feasible for new GM plants," says VLOG Executive Director Alexander Hissting. The new GM maize could come onto the market at any time. The company had already announced this step for 2020.

Canadian Biotechnology Action Network: Product Profile: GM Waxy Corn, Corteva (März 2021)

GRAIN: GM waxy maize: The gene edited Trojan Horse is moving through the gates (29.03.2021)