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More Alarm Bells Go Off on Biopharming

GM WATCH daily
"we should be concerned about the presence of a potentially toxic substance in food plants. After all, is this really so different from a conventional pharmaceutical or biopharmaceutical manufacturer packaging its pills in candy wrappers or flour bags or storing its compounds or production batches untended outside the perimeter fence?" (item 2)

2.Drugs in crops - the unpalatable truth
3.Charles Arntzen - pharma Godfather
FoE press release, July 12 2004

The EU has awarded 12 million euros to be invested in a European research project to produce pharmaceuticals in genetically modified plants, it was announced today.

Responding, Friends of the Earth's GM Campaigner, Clare Oxborrow said:

"Growing medicines in plants has serious implications for both human health and the environment. We recognise the need for affordable medicines to be made available to people with life-threatening illnesses, but this research could have widespread negative impacts. Food crops in the United States have already been destroyed because of contamination by experimental `pharm' crops. A clear set of criteria must be established to ensure that human health and the environment are protected. Any benefits must genuinely reach those that need them, rather than simply lining the pockets of the biotech and pharmaceutical industry"
2.EXCERPT from: Drugs in crops - the unpalatable truth Editorial, Nature Biotechnology doi:10.1038/nbt0204-133 February 2004 Volume 22 Number 2 p 133

...One might expect - and some in the industry obviously do - that drug production in plants could be good for the image of GM crops. After all, new/cheaper medicines are the sort of thing that consumers want.

The problem is - as anti-GM lobbyists have argued already - that the production of drugs or drug intermediates in food or feed crop species bears the potential danger that pharmaceutical substances could find their way into the food chain through grain admixture, or pollen-borne gene flow (in maize, at least) or some other accidental mix-up because of the excusably human inability to distinguish between crops for food and crops for drugs. The 'contamination' of soybeans and non-GM corn in 2002 with a corn engineered by Prodigene to produce an experimental pig vaccine shows just how plausible this is (Nat. Biotechnol. 21, 3, 2003).

This position is not anti-GM (something industry should appreciate) - we should be concerned about the presence of a potentially toxic substance in food plants. After all, is this really so different from a conventional pharmaceutical or biopharmaceutical manufacturer packaging its pills in candy wrappers or flour bags or storing its compounds or production batches untended outside the perimeter fence?
3.Charles Arntzen - pharma Godfather

Arntzen is the founding Director of the Arizona Biomedical Institute (ABI) at Arizona State University (ASU). The ABI forms a key means of achieving the ASU's goal of facilitating interactions with Arizona's biotechnology industrial base, and of dramatically expanding the ASU's external funding in areas like biotechnology. The ASU wants a particular focus on high-payoff areas that will help to expand economic development for the State's biotech sector.

Arntzen was previously the former President and CEO of the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

Arntzen specialises in edible vaccines genetically engineered into food plants such as tomatoes, bananas and potatoes.

Arntzen has bred potatoes that express Norwalk virus and E. coli antigens. Human test subjects have been fed the potatoes raw, because cooking might damage the antigen, even though cooking is normally considered necessary to render harmless the high levels of natural toxins that can occur in potatoes.

It also remains unclear how much vaccine a person would need to eat to ensure protection and how often, nor is it known how to avoid overdosing, or what side effects such as allergies may arise.

Like other plant biotechnologists, Arntzen has also found unexplained effects within plants he has genetically engineered. (Newsweek International, January 28, 2002)

In 1999 Arntzen attacked US company Frito Lay for bowing to consumer demands to make their snacks GM-free. Arntzen warned that consumers would boycott Frito Lay in punishment for denigrating GM 'crops that are helping make American agriculture more competitive on a global scale' (Top Producer magazine, December 1999). US farm exports have suffered multi-million dollar losses since the introduction of GM crops.
Press Release, 15 Nov 2002
GM "pharmaceutical" maize contaminates soya

GM pharmaceutical maize contaminates soya
Crops worth millions of dollars have been destroyed in the US after Soya contaminated by genetically modified (GM) maize plants used to produce a pharmaceutical or industrial chemical was discovered in a US grain elevator [1]. Friends of the Earth is seeking urgent reassurance from the European Commission that food in Europe has not been contaminated.

Half a million bushels of Soya, worth about $2.7 million, was discovered with GM contamination in Nebraska. The incident is believed to have occurred because the Soya was planted on the same site used to grow GM ³pharmaceutical² maize by biotech firm ProdiGene the previous year. Seeds dropped by the maize grew this year and contaminated the new crop. US authorities have not disclosed details of the mysterious GM ³pharmaceutical², but have revealed ProdiGene was involved in a similar incident in Iowa in September. ProdiGene, carries out a range of outdoor tests on crops containing pharmaceuticals and industrial products in at least 96 locations in the US.

Friends of the Earth¹s GM campaigner Adrian Bebb said:
"This was an accident waiting to happen. If you grow GM crops outdoors then they will eventually contaminate the rest of the food chain. The US authorities have now had to intervene twice to prevent these unlicensed genes entering the food chain. But how many incidents have they missed? We are seeking urgent assurances that food imported into Europe has not been contaminated.

"Once again the dangers of allowing GM crops to be commercially grown have been highlighted. The UK Government must take note, and refuse to allow them to be commercially grown in the UK".

Friends of the Earth, as part of a wider US coalition, warned the US Government earlier this year of the risk of contamination. The coalition is now filing a legal petition demanding an immediate halt to the outdoor growing of pharmaceutical GM crops.

Research into the company involved, Prodigene, reveals that the contamination could come from one of the following:

Aids vaccine gp120 -- a glycoprotein

Blood-clotting agent -- Aprotinin

Trypsin - Digestive enzyme that can be used in leather tanning or to produce insulin.

Industrial adhesive Laccase -- an enzyme derived from a fungus

Other "pharmaceutical" GM crops reportedly grown by ProdiGene include experimental oral vaccines for hepatitis B and for a pig disease, transmissible gastroenteritis. According to USDA records ProdiGene has received 85 test permits for experimental open-air trials of ³pharmaceutical² GM crops and chemical crops for planting in at least 96 locations.

Friends of the Earth¹s GM Campaigner Adrian Bebb continued: "Once you start genetically engineering drugs and chemicals into crop plants you are opening Pandora¹s box. The consequences could be catastrophic."

[1] The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Tuesday Nov. 12 that it quarantined over $2.7 million worth of Soya beans (500 000 bushels) destined for human consumption at a Nebraska grain elevator after finding parts of ProdiGene's GM maize mixed with the Soya beans. They later ordered their destruction.

1. Press release on food crops in US contaminated by GM pharm crops: