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Scientists Concerned About Pharma Crops

posted on December 17, 2004

Last week, we reported on the rapid growth of genetically modified crop production taking place around the world. Some of that growth involves the so-called "pharma crop" sector ... plants modified for use in the pharmaceutical or industrial markets.

While the development of "pharma crops" has raised expectations of new markets for corn and soybeans, it also has raised some concerns. Among them: the segregation of "pharma crops" from food and feed crops. A recent survey shows only 24 percent of grain elevators REQUIRE the segregation of any kind of GMO crops from conventional crops.

Concerns about the issue took on added weight this week with a cautionary decree from the scientific community.


Scientists Concerned About Pharma Crops

The USDA is being asked to immediately stop allowing outdoor production of genetically engineered pharmaceutical and industrial crops until a new system of growing the crops is developed that will not contaminate the nation's food supply.

Most at risk are corn and soybean crops -- concluded six agricultural experts commissioned by the Union of Concerned Scientists to analyze the risk to conventional crops.

They say there is risk that so-called pharma seed can be inadvertently spilled or mixed during seed production, harvest, storage and handling.

Corn has been the most popular crop because it is easier than other grains to genetically engineer. But one of the scientists on the study -- Kendell Lamkey from Iowa State University -- says there is more need to protect the conventional producers.

The corn breeder's concerns have dated back to at least October of 2003, when he told Market To Market that any GMO corn --pharmaceutical, industrial or engineered to be weed- or pesticide-resistant -- could be a threat to conventional and organic crops due to pollen drift.

Key: 10/31/03 Kendall Lamkey, Professor in plant breeding, Iowa State University: I think corn problems seem almost hopeless to me. I just dont know how theyre going to keep out the GMO pollen without getting rid of GM crops. Its a problem for more than just the organic people. Anybody who wants to be non-GMO, whether theyre organic or not has a problem.


There is a risk management system established by the USDA to control contamination -- such as physical isolation of the pharma crop -- as with this plot of barley containing a human protein.

The USDA has issued nearly 400 permits (primarily test plots) for the growing of so-called "pharma" crops. There is a high concentration of permits in the corn and soybean belt.

The study suggests that non-food or non-feed crops be used as pharma crops to "ensure virtually zero contamination of food and feed."

Tags: agriculture biotechnology crops drugs farmers food genetic engineering medicine news scientists USDA