GENET archive


2-Plants: U.S. consumer and environmental NGOs warn on risks posedby GE pharma rice

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

TITLE:  Experimental Pharmaceutical Rice May Pose Serious Health and
        Environmental Hazards
SOURCE: Friends of the Earth, Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety,
        Environment California, all USA, Press Release
DATE:   21 Jul 2004

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Experimental Pharmaceutical Rice May Pose Serious Health and
Environmental Hazards
California Agencies Urged to Investigate Potential Impacts and Impose
Moratorium on Pharmaceutical Crops Given Lax Federal Oversight

SACRAMENTO, CA - Consumer and environmental organizations called on
California state agencies today to conduct a rigorous investigation of
the potential hazards posed by a biotechnology firm's plan to produce
pharmaceutical drugs from genetically engineered rice. The potential for
contamination of conventional rice and the federal government's failure
to consider such hazards, are at the heart of the groups' concerns.

"Californians cannot rely on the federal government to protect the
state's consumers, farmers, and environment from the potential harms of
this experimental and unproven pharmaceutical rice," said Dr. Michael
Hansen, senior research associate with Consumers Union. "We urge state
authorities to undertake their own investigation because federal agencies
have failed to adequately review these concerns."

In a 22-page report sent to the California Department of Food and
Agriculture (CDFA), California Department of Health Services (CDHS), and
the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal-EPA), the groups
describe a number of serious, potential health and environmental concerns
about Ventria BioScience's pharmaceutical rice. The groups are urging
California authorities to impose a moratorium on such crops while state
agencies conduct an independent review of the controversial proposal.

"While the federal government properly maintains a 'zero tolerance'
standard for the contamination of food with plant-made pharmaceuticals,
they irresponsibly allow these crops to be grown outdoors, which will
inevitably lead to unapproved pharmaceuticals adulterating the food
supply," said Bill Freese, research analyst at Friends of the Earth.
"This contradictory federal policy exposes consumers to potential health
risks and imperils California's rice industry."

The report, prepared by Friends of the Earth, Center for Food Safety,
Consumers Union, and Environment California, cites numerous scientific
studies to highlight the potential health impacts of Ventria's
pharmaceuticals, which are artificial versions of the human milk proteins
lactoferrin, lysozyme, and alpha-1-antirypsin. The potential health
impacts described in the report include aggravation of bacterial
infections, autoimmune disorders, and allergic reactions that have not
been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (see executive

Ventria was authorized to grow 93 acres of pharmaceutical rice in 2003,
the largest reported acreage for any pharmaceutical crop field trial in
the nation to date. Its bid to begin commercial production on 120 acres
in southern California this year was temporarily blocked by California
and federal authorities. Ventria did gain permission to plant a smaller
plot in the Central Valley, and may re-apply for a larger planting next year.

The pharmaceutical traits of Ventria's rice could pass to food-grade rice
through transport in the guts of birds, flooding, volunteer
pharmaceutical rice from unharvested seed sprouting in the following
year's crop, or pollen dispersal by bees or high winds. Numerous experts,
including a committee of the National Academy of Sciences, have concluded
that total containment of drug traits from pharmaceutical crops cannot be

"We believe that over time the contamination of food grade rice is
virtually inevitable," said Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist
with Center for Food Safety. "It is absolutely critical for state
regulators to assess the potential health and environmental impacts of
this controversial pharmaceutical crop before any more is planted."

The report also describes several potential environmental impacts of
Ventria's pharmaceutical rice, such as the creation of hardier weeds,
damage to non-target insects, and disruption of soil ecology. The EPA has
not assessed Ventria's rice despite evidence that its pharmaceutical
proteins have pesticidal properties and could disrupt soil ecology. The
USDA has not tested for contamination of neighboring fields, nor has it
examined the potential for a noxious weed risk from the spread of
Ventria's pharmaceutical traits.

"Given the potential risks and scientific uncertainty surrounding this
unproven application of biotechnology, state officials should conduct
their own investigation to protect the interests of California's
consumers, farmers, and environment," said Dan Jacobsen, legislative
director of Environment California.


Bill Freese, Friends of the Earth: +1-573-447-1588
Dr. Michael Hansen, Consumers Union: +1-914-378-2452
Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, Center for Food Safety: +1-202-547-9359
Rebecca Spector, Center for Food Safety: +1-415-595-0478 (mobile)
Dan Jacobsen, Environment California: +1-916-446-8062

The Center for Food Safety
660 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, #302
Washington DC 20003
P: (+1-202)547-9359
F: (+1-202)547-9429

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

TITLE:  Ban on biotech crops sought
SOURCE: Contra Costa Times, USA, by Judy Silber
DATE:   22 Jul 2004

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Ban on biotech crops sought

Environmental groups Wednesday called for a statewide ban of genetically
engineered crops designed to produce pharmaceuticals, saying they pose
too many risks for food safety and the environment.

In a report sent to the California Department of Health Services, the
California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department
of Food and Agriculture, the groups requested a thorough review of two
pharmaceutical-producing rice varieties made by Sacramento-based Ventria
Bioscience. Ventria has been growing biotech rice in California since 1997.

"We believe a prudent approach is called for to protect the interests of
California consumers and farmers," read the report issued by Friends of
the Earth, Consumers Union and the Center for Food Safety.

The report follows a controversy that broke out earlier this year when
Ventria applied to federal and state agencies to plant 120 acres of its
two rice varieties. Environmentalists and rice farmers strongly objected,
saying the threat of contamination was high and would devastate
California's $500 million rice industry.

If granted the permits, the company intended to expand production of two
varieties of rice that produce the human proteins lactoferrin and
lysozyme. Extracted from the plants, the company says the proteins can
serve as drugs to treat diarrhea and anemia.

This was the first year Ventria needed the state's permission in addition
to a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Before, it had only
required federal permits because California only reviews new rice
varieties if more than 50 acres are planted.

Ventria's application was initially approved by a state rice advisory
board but later denied by the California Department of Food and
Agriculture. As it turns out, the USDA also denied the company's request
this year. Ventria is only growing 1 acre of the rice crops in 2004,
according to the environmentalists' report.

Still, the company can reapply next year for another permit, said Bill
Freese, a research analyst for Friends of the Earth. "The amount of these
varieties of rice have been growing since 1997," Freese said. He pointed
out that Ventria planted only 6 acres in 1999 compared with 93 acres of
the two varieties in 2003. "It's time to put a stop to it," he said.

Until state agencies carry out a thorough review, the environmental
groups urged California regulators to ban not only the rice but also all
bioengineered crops designed to produce pharmaceuticals.

A spokesman at the Department of Food and Agriculture said he had not yet
seen the environmentalists' report. Regardless, the agency does not have
the authority to ban biotech crops, he said.

"It's federal jurisdiction in our view that applies," said Steve Lyle,
department spokesman. Responsibility for regulating biotech crops lies
with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Food and Drug
Administration, he said.

Ventria could not be reached for comment. Lisa Dry, a spokeswoman for the
Biotechnology Industry Organization, defended the regulatory process for
the pharma crops.

"These field trials are all heavily regulated," Dry said. "Before the
permits are issued, the planting protocol is examined very carefully to
evaluate the degree of risk."

But the environmentalists' report said state action is required because
federal oversight is inadequate. The FDA does not consider the potential
human health impacts due to contamination of rice consumed as food. The
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hasn't examined potential harmful
disruptions to soil ecology. Nor has the USDA looked at whether gene
transfer from biotech rice to other, related plants has occurred, the
report said.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

P: +49-531-5168746
F: +49-531-5168747
M: +49-162-1054755
E: coordination(*)
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