New Alarming Report on Hazards of Biopharming

JULY 10, 2002
Contacts: Matt Rand, National Environmental Trust: 202-887-8800
Larry Bohlen, Friend of the Earth: 202-783-7400 x251

More than 300 field trials of genetically engineered biopharmaceuticals
crops already conducted in secret locations nationwide

Washington, DC - A coalition of consumer and environmental groups called
on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today to prohibit a new
class of genetically engineered food crops that threatens to contaminate
the food supply much the way StarLink genetically engineered corn did in
September 2000. In a letter to the USDA, the coalition called for an
end to open air cultivation of crops engineered to produce prescription
drugs or industrial chemicals. The new crops, already planted in over
300 field trials at secret locations nationwide, include plants that
produce an abortion-inducing chemical, growth hormones, a blood clotter,
and trypsin, an allergenic enzyme. The coalition proposed that the USDA
permit only contained cultivation of non-food plants under the same
controlled circumstances as other drug production.

"Just one mistake by a biotech company and we'll be eating other people
's prescription drugs in our corn flakes," said Larry Bohlen, Director
of Health and Environment Programs at Friends of the Earth, a member of
the coalition. "The USDA should prohibit the planting of food crops
engineered with drugs and chemicals to protect the food supply from

The National Academy of Sciences warns: ".it is possible that crops
transformed to produce pharma- ceutical or other industrial compounds
might mate with plantations grown for human consumption, with the
unanticipated result of novel chemicals in the human food supply." And
the editors of Nature Biotechnology recently warned: "Current
gene-containment strategies cannot work reliably in the field." A
contamination incident may already have occurred as one biotech company
official noted at an government-industry conference that: "We've seen it
on the vaccine side where modified live seeds have wandered off and have
appeared in other products."

In a new report released today, the Genetically Engineered Food Alert
coalition details the threats that biopharm crops pose, the extent to
which they have been planted across the U.S., the failure of regulatory
agencies to serve the public, and a set of recommendations. The report,
entitled "Manufacturing Drugs and Chemicals in Crops: Biopharming Poses
New Threats to Consumers, Farmers, Food Companies and the Environment,"
may be found at

The majority of engineered biopharmaceuticals and chemicals are in corn,
a prolific pollinator. ProdiGene, the company with the most plantings
of drug and chemical-producing plants, projects that 10% of the corn
crop will be devoted to biopharm production by 2010. StarLink corn,
planted on less than 1% of total US corn acreage, contaminated hundreds
of food products and corn seed stock with a potentially allergenic
protein despite the use of gene containment measures. Far from
supporting containment strategies such as buffer areas, Anthony Laos,
ProdiGene's CEO, wrote farmers in 2001 that: "We will be dealing with
these distances until we can gain regulatory approval to lessen or
abandon these requirements altogether." Some companies also propose
extracting drugs or chemicals from plants, then selling the remainder.
Incomplete extraction would mean drugs or chemicals in food or feed.

"Farmers cannot afford another contamination incident hurting sales and
throwing the harvest into turmoil like StarLink did in 2000" said Matt
Rand, Biotechnology Campaign Manager at the National Environmental

Genetically Engineered Food Alert founding members include: Center for
Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, Institute for Agriculture and Trade
Policy, National Environmental Trust, Organic Consumers Association,
Pesticide Action Network North America, and the State Public Interest
Research Groups.

Genetically Engineered Food Alert supports the removal of genetically
engineered ingredients from grocery store shelves unless they are
adequately safety tested and labeled. The campaign provides web-based
opportunities for individuals to express concern about genetically
engineered food and fact sheets on health, environmental and economic
information about genetically engineered food. The coalition is
endorsed by more than 250 scientists, religious leaders, doctors, chefs,
environmental and health leaders, as well as farm groups.

The executive summary, the full report, the letter with recommendations
to USDA and a link to the ProdiGene statement are located at:

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