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2-Plants: Non-food GE crop broker company in search of third worldfarmers



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TITLE:  Brokering Iffy Biotech to Out-of-the-Way Farmers
SOURCE: EDMONDS INSTITUTE ALERT, USA
DATE:   Feb 12, 2003

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


Brokering Iffy Biotech to Out-of-the-Way Farmers
Opportunities on the Web: Shifting the Risks of Biopharming
Taking a "Dirty Industry" South? 

Edmonds, Washington, Wednesday, February 12. The Edmonds Institute, a
public interest, non-profit known for its work on biosafety, today warned
about use of the Internet to find farmers in out-of-the-way places
willing to grow pharm crops. "With bioengineered piglets going unapproved
to market, with experimental crops contaminating 150 acres of corn and
half a million bushels of soybeans, with an engineered corn unapproved
for human consumption turning up all over the world, at a time when the
environmental and human health problems posed by the so-called pharm
crops* desperately need the clear scientific light of day, people are
brokering contract pharming deals on the web, " cautions Beth Burrows,
Edmonds Institute President and Director.

Burrows is referring to "biopharming", the genetic engineering of
organisms, such as crop plants, to produce substances they don't
ordinarily produce, such as pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals.
Because of the danger of contamination of our food and feed supplies,
"pharming" was the subject of a recent call for comment by the US Food
and Drug Administration.

"The web middlemen tells companies to 'contact us if you see anyone (on
our website list of growers) who might be in the right place to safely
contract grow your crop for you'," notes Burrows, "and then they tempt
farmers with the thought that, "(w)e would expect in order to get exactly
the right location and conditions, Pharmaceutical Companies to lease land
at up to 20 times 'commercial' rates for normal food crops."

Burrows adds, "The web brokers are offering what seems to be a perfect
deal. Perfect, until you begin to wonder whether they're not shifting the
risk and liability burden from pharmaceutical and manufacturing companies
to those much less able to address and bear the potential health,
environmental, and legal burdens of pharm crops."

Burrows points to Molecularfarming.com, a website that came to her notice
via Indusfarming, an electronic digest that originates in India and
focuses on the problems of agrarian peoples in the South Asia and Indus
basin region. Late January, an article in Indusfarming heralded
"Molecular farming. Contract growing opportunity".

The article announced a "global project, based in Europe," that aimed to
"enable the future SAFE production of Biopharmaceuticals, Biodegradeable
plastics, New Fibers and New Polymers in transgenic, NON-FOOD USE,
genetically engineered molecular crops ." The article acknowledged that
"there will be cross-contamination and Environmental risks" but foresaw a
"huge future industry" for contract farmers able to grow "molecular
crops" in greenhouses or in "'isolated', 'non-native', 'away from related
food crop'" places. The article announced a "free to join Global Database
of future potential growers, with the idea of introducing
Biopharmaceutical companies with crops to grow to contract growers and
farmers in safe locations."

Mentioning that they already "have a few Indian growers", the article
called attention to the project's website <http://
www.molecularfarming.com> and enjoined the reader to "explore the
potential for you."

Burrows points out that, "This is an inducement to exactly the kind of
'pharming' that FDA and all the rest of us are concerned about,* and
doing it in out of the way places doesn't guarantee the safety of anything. "

Devinder Sharma, award-winning journalist and food system analyst based
in New Delhi, saw the same article Burrows did, and commented:

"This is shocking indeed...This is part of the global design to
translocate the dirty industry to the Third World. First, it was the
translocation of toxic and hazardous waste recycling to developing
countries (mainly South Asia and Africa). . .Then came the translocation
of the flower industry, one of the dirtiest farming systems...to India,
Kenya and Colombia...Now, it is the turn of bio-pharma crops. Even in the
United States, there is tremendous problems with bio-pharma crops. So
what do you do? Translocate this dirty industry to countries of South Asia."

According to the website - Molecularfarming.com - its "worldwide
molecular farming database" was started in February, 2002. Since then,
"potential growers" for "pharm" crops have been found in Canada, Ireland,
Australia, Argentina, a dozen states of the USA, Scotland, England,
Zimbabwe, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Korea, Greece, Turkey, Panama,
Romania, Nigeria, and South Africa. The website owners also "have leads
to a farmer's group in the Baltic Sea Islands" and" a contact for 147,000
acres in Guinea (in West Africa)."

Not surprised by the website, Sharma notes, "I am sure we will have a
number of 'farmers' waiting on line to encash this opportunity."

Burrows admits that the website "offers an attractive package" but, she
notes, "If you read it carefully, you see many, many safety problems. At
best, they are talking about hoped-for solutions. They talk 'protection'
but it's mostly talk about protection from gene flow in the field. That
is not the only problem, not even the only environmental problem, posed
by pharm crops."

In its recent draft Guidance for Industry regarding Drugs, Biologicas and
Medical Devices Derived from Bioengineered Plants for Use in Humans and
Animals, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised industry to
"consider the potential environmental impact of all aspects of the
manufacturing process, including but not limited to transport of seeds
and plants, growing, harvesting, processing, purifying, packaging,
storage, and disposal."

Looking at the molecularfarming website, Burrows worries that, "Aside
from the risks that may be engendered by handling these crops, what about
the risks from transporting these crops or accidents while processing
these crops? Whose is the liability for the child in an out of the way
place that picks and eats one of these strange new crops? And who is
going to be sure that the farmer in out-of-the-way places are told all
they need to know about pharm crops and their problems and how to handle
them. Who is going to help those out-of-the-way farmers obey whatever
relevant laws may exist in their own counties? I find it noteworthy that
one of the key questions the website asks farmers is, 'Has your property
public liability insurance?'"

Molecularfarming.com does offers its readers translations into Spanish,
Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese but it
admits that the translations are "not exact". Burrows wants to know,
"Exactly what things aren't exactly well-explained, and what about the
farmers who speak Hindi, or Parsi, or Arabic or Swahili? Who will explain
to them the implications of the deal they are being offered? The
unknowing farmers who find this website may not be so much bridging the
digital divide as walking a digital plank. "

Devinder Sharma warns further, "It is time the civil society wakes up to
these ecological dangers. We cannot allow the West to clean up its house
and even its backyard and turn us into a rubbish bin."

################## end #################

Contact:
The Edmonds Institute, 20319-92nd Avenue West, Edmonds, Washington 98020, USA,
phone: 1-425-775-5383
email: beb@igc.org
website: http://www.edmonds-institute.org

The Edmonds Institute is a public interest, non-profit concerned with
issues related to environment and technology. Known for its work on
biosafety and biodiversity, it was incorporated in 1995 and is a
501(c)(3) organization under the rules of the Internal Revenue Service.

Contact:
Beth Burrows - 425-775-5383
Dr. Devinder Sharma, agricultural expert and journalist
(in India) 91 (11) 5250494
email: dsharma@ndf.vsnl.net.in
Dr. Norman Ellstrand, University of California Riverside - professor of
genetics and expert in gene flow
+1-909-787-4194
Dr. Michael Hansen, Consumers Union Policy Institute research and policy
analyst
+1-914-378-2452

****************************

* E.g.,February 6, 2003, following submission of formal comments to
USFDA, a representative of the US Grocery Manufacturers of America
warned, "To minimize the possible risks, a clear system of regulatory
enforcement and liability needs to be in place for the development,
testing and eventual commercialization of PMPs [plant made
pharmaceuticals] - just as we require strict regulations for conventional
drugs made in brick and mortar facilities. Until then, no permits for new
field trials or for commercialization should be issued by USDA because
there is no room for trial and error."