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Prodigene Backs off Controversial Biopharm Corn Project in Texas

Frio won't see genetically altered corn
09/08/2004

Elizabeth Allen
San Antonio Express-News Business Writer

After seeking permits to plant genetically engineered pharmaceutical corn in
Frio County, the College Station-based company ProdiGene abandoned its
efforts.

ProdiGene was seeking permits to plant up to several hundred acres of corn
that have been altered to produce animal proteins used in medicine.

The company chose Frio County in part because it is not a major
corn-producing county, lessening the chances its modified corn would
cross-pollinate with conventional corn, according to information it provided
to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service.

But the APHIS Web site last week listed the two Frio County permit
applications as withdrawn, and a third that was approved will not be
executed.

ProdiGene Chief Executive Officer John Reiher did not return phone calls
seeking comment.

The Sierra Club submitted a letter to the USDA opposing the project, and the
Organic Consumers Association posted the letter on its Web site.

Problems with the project include incomplete scientific reviews and
insufficient public notice in Frio County, said Neil Carman, vice chairman
of the Sierra Club's genetic engineering committee.

"There's some major issues about the regulatory process," Carman said,
adding that much more stringent monitoring is called for because
"gene-splicing itself is inherently risky."

The environmental assessment did not reveal the location but said it was
three to four miles south of the Frio River and surrounded by open ranchland
and some vegetable farming. It stated that no other corn was grown
commercially within at least a mile around the site.