2-Plants: Molecular farming under fire in Canada
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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------
TITLE: Molecular Farming Under Fire
SOURCE: wired.com, by Charles Mandel
DATE: November 6, 2001
------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------
Molecular Farming Under Fire
OTTAWA -- The next wave of genetically altered plants are on the horizon,
and activists are warning the hue and cry over plant molecular farming will
dwarf any previous controversy over other such products. The new outcry
over plant molecular farming coincides with a public forum currently
underway in Ottawa. The federal government's Canadian Food Inspection
Agency (CFIA) has called for the public's views on plant molecular farming -
-or "pharming" as it's sometimes referred to in the industry.
The one-day forum and three-day technical conference are meant to help the
CFIA as they draft new regulatory directives for 2002. While no plants for
molecular farming are currently approved in Canada, the government wants
its regulatory framework in place before the practice takes off. Plant
molecular farming uses genetic engineering to produce substances for a
variety of uses. Potential products include the development of antigens for
vaccines that might be mass-produced in plants such as corn and used to
fight such diseases as cancer and diabetes.
It's the fact that the plants are used to produce drugs that is alarming
activists. They worry that once production begins, the altered plants might
find their way into the food supply or cross-pollinate with clean crops.
Concern arose last year after GMO corn produced by StarLink accidentally
ended up in commercial food products.
"These are drugs that you should only be eating if you've got a
prescription from the doctor, and not because they're in your taco shell,"
says Doreen Stabinsky, a geneticist in Bar Harbour, Maine, who is a science
advisor to Greenpeace. Stabinsky said once people learn more about plant
molecular farming, she would expect the fuss over them to be larger than it
is over other GMO crops. "I think people will really react to this in a way
they haven't reacted to other GMOs," she said. "It's much more blatant.
'Somebody's putting a drug in my food? What!'" Stabinsky argues the issues
associated with plant molecular farming are more serious than other GMO
plants because pharmaceuticals are involved. "They're drugs. They're meant
to cause some kind of physiological change in humans," she said.
Plant molecular farming is potentially big business. The CFIA, in a recent
report, says that U.S. demand alone for biotech pharmaceuticals is
expanding at 13 percent annually and is expected to command a market value
of $28.6 billion by 2004. Already such American companies as ProdiGene in
Texas and Applied Phytologics Incorporated of California are testing plant
molecular crops. ProdiGene is developing vaccines for animals and humans,
while Applied Phytologics is growing open-air crops of rice containing
human proteins including lactoferrin.
In Canada, only three or four companies have applied to work with plant
molecular farming, according to Stephen Yarrow, the CFIA's national manager
of the bioplant safety office. "It's a very specialized part of the story
at this time," he said. The Ottawa consultation has attracted 55 people
representing industry, food producers, academics and scientists. However,
the Canadian environmental movement is boycotting the proceedings.
A letter from the Canadian Environmental Network (CEN), a clearinghouse for
national environment groups, criticizes the hearings as biased in favor of
industry. Derek Stack, CEN's national caucus coordinator and author of the
letter, wrote that only one environmental group was invited although a half-
day discussion of environmental issues was scheduled. He also criticized
the CFIA for failing to circulate technical papers before the consultation
and for having limited advertising about the meetings. "In short, the ENGOs
(Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations) the CEN approached felt the
structure of the meeting was not geared toward balanced results, technical
debate or public input."
Yarrow expressed surprise that the CEN chose not to send a delegate and
dismissed their complaint that they'd received their invitation to the
hearings late as "utter nonsense."
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