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2-Plants: Molecular Pharming - the new battlefront over GM crops



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TITLE:  Molecular Pharming - the New Battlefront over GM Crops
SOURCE: The Institute of Science in Society, UK
        http://www.i-sis.org.uk/
DATE:   19 Jul 2005

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Molecular Pharming - the New Battlefront over GM Crops

The biggest battle for democracy in the 'heartland of democracy' is being
fought over GM crops and it has shifted to molecular pharming. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

A fully referenced version of this article is posted on ISIS members'
website http://www.i-sis.org.uk/full/MPTNBFull.php
Details here http://www.i-sis.org.uk/membership.php

US Department of Agriculture caves in to pharm crops

The battlefront over GM crops in the United States and Europe has shifted
to molecular pharming, the use of GM crops to produce pharmaceuticals.
California-based company Ventria Bioscience has been at the forefront of
pharm crops development, and has planted 75 acres of genetically
engineered rice near Plymouth in Eastern North Carolina [1].

Ventria made applications to grow GM rice producing human lactoferrin and
lysozyme, normally produced in human milk, saliva and tears, in
California, Missouri and North Carolina, stirring up a storm of
opposition. Ventria was driven out of California last year [2], and
forced out of southeast Missouri earlier this year by a last minute
uprising from rice farmers who feared contamination of their crops and
damage to a $100 million industry that depends heavily on exports [3].

The USDA was under pressure to turn down Ventria's request and others
like it. The Grocery Manufacturers of America, representing $500 billion
in annual sales, says that the government lacks a way to prevent
pharmaceutical proteins from contaminating food. Advocacy groups
presented Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns with 30 000 signatures
asking for a ban on the use of food crops to produce pharmaceuticals.
Northwest Missouri State University President Dean Hubbard insists,
however, that his institution is going ahead with a $40 million
agricultural pharmaceutical centre that would house Ventria and other
companies.

On 30 June, the USDA approved Ventria application to grow its GM rice on
270 acres in North Carolina [3], despite opposition from scientists
working at the state and federally-operated Rice Quarantine Nursery at
the Tidewater Research Station, just over half a mile from the Ventria
test site. USDA also cleared the way for Ventria to grow its pharm rice
on 200 acres in the middle of Missouri's chief rice-growing region, even
though Ventria has already withdrawn its permit applications for that
site. Anheuser- Busch, the nation's largest brewer, had indicated it
would refuse to buy any rice from southeastern Missouri's hundreds of
growers if the Ventria pharm rice was planted there. But USDA dismissed
the concerns as "non-scientific" and beyond its legal purview.

Health and environmental hazards ignored

As numerous critics have pointed out, it is virtually impossible to
prevent contamination of our food crops either by cross-pollination or
seed spills during transport. The safety of these and other transgenic
proteins for human beings is highly questionable. Prof. Joe Cummins has
reviewed and submitted evidence on the potential hazards of lactoferrin
and lysozyme [4]. Lactoferrin participates in the regulation of immune
functions and controls pathogens by binding iron required for bacterial
growth. It has been implicated in asthma with fatal consequences.
Lysozyme breaks down the cell wall material of bacteria, but may
contribute to emphysema. But by far the greater danger is that the
transgenic proteins are only approximations of the natural protein both
in DNA sequence, amino-acid sequence and patterns of glycosylation
(carbohydrate chains added to the proteins), all of which may make
transgenic proteins allergenic, or the transgenic proteins may trigger
diseases connected with the inability of human cells to break them down
properly.

As these proteins both target bacteria, there is a large question mark
over the safety of these proteins to beneficial bacteria in our gut,
which are now known to promote healthy development in numerous ways from
cradle to grave [5]. In addition, we know nothing concerning the effects
of these proteins on beneficial bacteria and other organisms in the soil,
on insects, amphibians, birds and mammals that interact with the pharm
rice in the fields. Another aspect virtually ignored in all risk
assessment is the hazards from horizontal transfer of the transgenes to
viral and bacterial pathogens that are everywhere in our environment [6].

Move to pre-empt local regulation

The North Carolina legislature is considering "preemption" bills intended
to block local regulation of crop plants, including biotech crops. The
bills, House Bill 671 and Senate Bill 631, were sponsored by the biotech
industry and are part of a nationwide industry effort to preempt local
governments from regulating any crops, including GM crops. Similar bills
have become law in at least 10 other states in the US this year, and are
clearly targeted at the grassroots uprising against GM crops that has
been gaining momentum over the past year (Science in Society 2004, 22
From the Editor http://www.i-sis.org.uk/isisnews.php).

Patents on molecular pharming

A total of 369 patents are currently listed under "Protein products for
future global good" on MolecularFarming.com [7], a website that claims to
have received its information from the "FAAR Biotechnology Group Inc.,
which provides industry, government, universities and legal counsel with
expert advice, consultation and evaluation of biotechnology research,
business opportunities and intellectual property matters."

The patents date from 1990 onwards, including methods for producing
antibodies, vaccines, proteins, flavourings, biodegradable plastics,
methods for metabolic interventions that change the nutrition and
composition of seeds, recovery methods for the proteins produced, for
viral systems and viral vectors used in plants, and methods for molecular
farming by chloroplast transformation.

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