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[SANET-MG] pharm crops OKd in california
Strangely there is no discussion of human lactoferrin and human lysozyme and
their role in forms of Alzheimer's disease and of ALS. Along with that mutant
forms of the human genes also contribute to inherited diseases. This reminds me
of asbestos or cigarettes ,years ago when related health problems were seldom
discussed in public.Public relations in crop genetic engineering seems to have
learned from the tobacco industry.
April 8, 2004 the scientist
California OKs GM pharm crops
Groups protest decision to allow rice engineered to produce human lactoferrin
and lysozyme | By Charles Q Choi
International groups of scientists, consumers, and environmental activists are
urging the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to reject an
emergency proposal to grow pharmaceutical rice. The rice would be the first
time a genetically modified (GM) food crop in the United States was planted for
commercial-scale drug production.
"The implication is there could be a precedent set here on biopharmaceutical
crops on which we don't have a full national policy in place yet, and there are
clearly questions here about human safety," Michael Hansen, an ecologist and
senior research associate at Consumers Union's Consumer Policy Institute in
Yonkers, NY, told The Scientist.
On March 29, the California Rice Commission, which makes recommendations to
CDFA, approved by a 6 to 5 vote the Sacramento, Calif.?based biotech firm
Ventria Bioscience's proposal to grow rice genetically engineered with human
genes to produce lactoferrin and lysozyme.
Both proteins are found in bodily secretions such as milk, tears, and saliva,
and possess antibiotic, antifungal, and antiviral properties. Among other
ailments, the company hopes these drugs can kill bacteria that cause severe
diarrhea, such as
Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas spp., or Vibrio cholera. "Ventria's products have
the potential to save the lives of 2 million children a year," said Ventria
president and chief executive officer Scott Deeter.
Ventria sought approval via an emergency proposal to grow up to 120 acres of the
crops in 10 Californian counties away from the state's primary rice fields. The
planting season lasts from April to July, and since the standard review process
can take months, Ventria went on a fast-track process to avoid delaying plans
until next year. CDFA secretary A.G. Kawamura must decide whether to approve,
deny, or modify the rice commission's recommendation by April 12.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) urged Kawamura to deny the
recommendation. "I don't know of any emergency involved here to deny the public
any right to participate in these deliberations and accomplish any approval in
only 10 days. Not getting into the field as soon as possible is not really an
emergency," said Margaret Mellon, director of the UCS food and environment
Deeter objected, saying Ventria's proposal had been discussed in public meetings
since March 2003, with attendees including the UCS and Consumers Union. "We've
by no means been trying to sneak this through. We're absolutely committed to
listening to any data and scientific evidence that's new," Deeter said.
Consumer and environmental groups fired off letters urging Kawamura to deny the
recommendation and hold public hearings on the application instead. The
Consumers Union, along with four other groups, noted that pharmaceutical crops
might trigger food allergies, kill off wildlife or beneficial microbes, or
transfer disease-resistant traits to related weeds.
The Center for Food Safety also noted that groups in Japan, the largest foreign
market for Californian rice, have said they might reject GM rice or even rice
grown near GM crops.
"Ventria says they can limit contamination, but cannot offer a 100% guarantee.
For us, even the smallest chance of contamination is too much for us to risk,"
Yoko Tomiyama, chairperson of Consumers Union Japan, wrote in a March letter to
the California Rice Commission.
As of now, it's unclear whether Ventria can begin planting this year even with
CDFA approval, because further US Department of Agriculture (USDA) consent is
"From discussions with USDA officials, we understand that Ventria Bioscience
does not yet have a Plant Pest Act permit to grow pharmaceutical rice in
California counties south of the major rice-growing area of the state," Mellon
and UCS senior staff scientist Jane Rissler wrote in a letter to Kawamura on
March 31. "Since the USDA permit may take up to 120 days to obtain and is
required before planting can begin, the company may not be able to plant this
spring even with CDFA approval."
Deeter agreed. "Submitting a permit is a fairly exhaustive process that doesn't
happen quickly, from past experience," he said.
Links for this article
Ventria Bioscience: Lactoferrin and Lysozyme
"To CDFA: Pharm Rice in California," letter from the Union of Concerned
Scientists, March 31, 2004.
"Consumer and environmental groups urge California officials to deny firm's
request to grow pharmaceutical rice," Consumers Union press release, April 1,
"California Rice Commission approves genetically engineered rice," Center for
Food Safety press release, March 29, 2004.
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