Biotech Trade Group Backs off
on Biopharm Safety Pledge

December 4, 2002

Biotech Group Backs Off Pledge
On Genetically Modified Corn


The crop biotechnology industry is retreating from its pledge to avoid
growing in the heart of the Midwest Farm Belt corn genetically modified to
make pharmaceuticals.

A voluntary drug-free zone was adopted in October by the Biotechnology
Industry Organization, the biggest biotech trade group, in hopes of easing
concerns that pharmaceuticals and chemicals derived from genetically
modified corn might contaminate crops intended to produce food for humans.

But the policy angered powerful Iowa U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, whose
state has high hopes for building a new industry around genetically
modifying plants such as corn to make pharmaceuticals. Sen. Grassley's
office Tuesday announced that the trade group's president, Carl B.
Feldbaum, delivered a revised policy to the Iowa Republican, who is slated
to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee in January.

Under the new policy, the trade group will leave the decision of where to
conduct bio-pharming up to federal regulators, who have permitted
experimental corn plots in Iowa. "We didn't want to appear to be
discriminating against certain parts of the country," said Lisa Dry, a
spokeswoman for the biotech organization.

The food industry is nervous that corn genetically modified to make a
vaccine or antibody might accidentally end up in their products, triggering
an expensive recall. Recent events suggest they have reason to be
concerned. Last month, U.S. regulators reported that some stray corn plants
genetically modified by ProdiGene Inc. to make a diarrhea drug were
accidentally mixed with 500,000 bushels of soybeans at an elevator in

ProdiGene agreed to destroy the soybeans and the U.S. Department of
Agriculture is considering whether to levy penalties against the College
Station, Texas, firm.

Some food-industry officials have threatened to lobby for a ban on using
food crops to make drugs unless the fledging bio-pharming industry
convinces them mistakes can't happen.

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