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2-Plants: Controversy about GE pharma-maize continues

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                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Food, Biotech Industries Feud Over Plans for Bio-Pharming
SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal, USA, by Scott Kilman
        sent by AgBioView, USA
DATE:   Nov 5, 2002

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Food, Biotech Industries Feud Over Plans for Bio-Pharming

Chicago -- A fight is breaking out between the U.S. food and biotechnology 
industries over plans to genetically modify food crops to make drugs and 

Bio-pharming is widely seen as the next wave for the crop-biotechnology 
sector, which so far has focused on making crops easier to grow. Industry 
officials hope this nascent field, which exploits the ability of plants to 
make medically important proteins at far less expense than fermentation 
factories, will grow into a multibillion-dollar business by the end of the 

But politically powerful trade groups for the $500 billion food sector are 
preparing to lobby federal regulators for new rules that would make life 
far more difficult for bio-pharming firms. The food industry, which has 
been generally supportive of crop biotechnology thus far, might try to 
enlist consumers in its drive to take food crops out of the hands of bio-
pharming businesses.

'Go to the Public' "If need be, we could even go to the public," said Rhona 
Applebaum, executive vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at 
the National Food Processors Association in Washington, D.C. Most food 
executives have long supported the push by biotech companies into 
agriculture, anticipating the creation of crops that would taste better, 
stay fresh longer and no longer trigger allergic reactions in consumers.

But they don't want their favorite crops genetically modified for anybody 
else. Many food executives are afraid that vaccines, enzymes, antibodies 
and hormones might accidentally end up in their products, which would 
trigger expensive recalls. They are worried that handling mishaps might 
occur and that pollen from plants designed for pharmaceutical purposes 
might drift far enough on the wind to impregnate related crops intended for 

'Corn Is Protected' "We want to ensure that our corn is protected. We are 
concerned," said Mark Dollins, a spokesman for PepsiCo Inc. unit Quaker 
Oats, which has a breakfast-cereal factory in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a state 
that is spending millions of dollars to attract bio-pharming firms 
interested in working on corn plants, its biggest crop.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has been reviewing the rules, 
requires bio-pharming inventors to keep their experimental crops a certain 
distance from fields of related plants and to time the reproductive cycle 
of their fields so that they are out of synch with those of neighbors' 
fields. But there is no limit on the geography of bio-pharming inventions 
or the plants that can be used.

Trade groups such as Grocery Manufacturers of America and the National Food 
Processors Association are pressing the biotechnology industry to make 
pharmaceuticals only from nonfood crops such as tobacco. But food crops 
such as corn, canola, potatoes, and tomatoes are the plants of choice for 
many bio-pharming researchers.

On The Pharm. The biggest North American biotech trade group, the 
Biotechnology Industry Organization, tried to strike a compromise late last 
month. Its bio-pharming members, which number about a dozen in the U.S. and 
Canada, pledged to avoid planting corn in the major corn-producing states 
of Iowa, Illinois and Indiana and in portions of Nebraska and five other 

Doesn't Cover All Food Crops. But the drug-free zone doesn't go far enough 
for many in the food sector. It doesn't cover all food crops, it is little 
more than a gentleman's agreement, and some companies interested in bio-
pharming aren't members of the trade group. Iowa officials, for example, 
are pressing ahead with efforts to foster a bio-pharming industry built 
around corn, its biggest crop.

"We'll make sure Iowa is still the place to be" for biotechnology firms, 
Iowa Gov. Thomas Vilsack said. Midwest economists see bio-pharming as a 
rare chance for a niche of farmers to reap much more money from growing 
corn. "The stakes are big for a place like rural Iowa," said Mark 
Drabenstott, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Mo., 
adding: "There aren't a lot of economic opportunities that come along like 
this for them."

Iowa has been among the most aggressive states at trying to build a bio-
pharming industry. The state has poured millions into research at its 
public universities, created tax incentives to lure inventors, and is 
proceeding with plans to build a facility for extracting pharmaceutical 
proteins from crops.

Recruit Meristem. One Iowa recruit is Meristem Therapeutics, a French 
biotechnology concern, which this year grew a one-acre test plot of corn 
genetically modified to make gastric lipase enzyme, which is used to treat 
digestive problems caused by cystic fibrosis.

Bill Horan, the Rockwell City, Iowa, farmer who grew the experimental corn, 
wouldn't comment on whether the project will continue in that state next 
year. Meristem is a member of Biotechnology Industry Organization, the 
industry trade group that arranged the truce. A spokesman for the 
organization said it expects Meristem to go along with the agreement, but 
officials of Meristem couldn't be reached for comment on their plans.

The accord will force ProdiGene Inc., a closely held BIO member based in 
College Station, Texas, to shift hundreds of acres of its genetically 
modified corn from one county in Nebraska, said Anthony Laos, its chief 
executive officer. The corn is engineered to make trypsin, a protein that 
is produced by the pancreas. The drug sector uses the protein to make 
insulin, among other things.

The trade-group moratorium is open-ended in terms of how long it lasts. But 
Mr. Laos said he intends to honor it for one year and then reconsider. He 
also is adamant about continuing to use the corn plant. Corn, he says, is 
one of the easiest plants to genetically modify, and it excels at making 
novel proteins in its seeds, a handy storage container. "We have 
capitulated some, but I would fight going any further," the CEO said.

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

SOURCE: AgBiotechNet, by Boy Feil and Peter Stamp
        edited and sent by Agnet, Canada
DATE:   Nov 4, 2002

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Opponents of gene technology are concerned about the potential hazards of 
releasing pollen from genetically modified (GM) maize. Under suitable 
atmospheric conditions, GM maize pollen can travel long distances in a 
viable state and fertilize non-GM plants far away from the pollen source. 
Furthermore, pollen-mediated gene transfer from GM maize to the wild 
relative teosinte and to landraces cannot be ruled out. Agronomic measures 
such as spatial isolation and border rows cannot reliably prevent the 
dispersal of transgenes. We, therefore, propose growing 80:20% mixtures of 
cytoplasmic male-sterile (cms) GM hybrids and male-fertile non-GM hybrids, 
whereby the latter component acts as pollen donor for the entire stand. 
Since the cms GM plants release no pollen or, at least, no viable pollen, 
the transgenes cannot escape from the GM maize field. There are at least 
five dvantages over most other strategies for transgene containment cited 
in the literature. Firstly, there is experimental evidence that cms hybrids 
yield better than their male-fertile counterparts. Secondly, pollination of 
the cms hybrids by genetically distinct pollen donor hybrids (= non-
isogenic pollination) can bring about additional grain yield benefits 
through xenia. Thirdly, blends of male-sterile Bt maize and male-fertile 
non-GM maize may help delay the development of Bt toxin-resistant insect 
populations. Fourthly, it is not mandatory to genetically engineer maize 
for cms, because 40 sources of cms, which can be divided into three major 
groups, are available. Fifthly, our method can be implemented immediately, 
because inexpensive seed of cms versions of current high-yielding hybrids 
can be produced in large quantities using existing standard methods. The 
proposed system represents a simple and efficient novel solution for policy 
makers who must establish the legal requirements that regulate the parallel 
production of GM and non-GM maize. In principle, our method is applicable 
to all crops that produce a sufficient surplus of pollen.


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