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[SANET-MG] ban plant based pharmaceuticals
ISIS Press Release 29/07/04
Ban Plant-based Transgenic Pharmaceuticals
Prof. Joe Cummins and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho call for a global forum and a ban
on testing pharm crops, especially in Third World countries
Sources for this report are available in the ISIS members site. Full
As one after another biotech giant retreated from genetically modified
(GM) crops for food and feed in Europe (see "Biotech investment busy
going nowhere", this issue), the industry is redoubling its efforts to
develop plant-based transgenic pharmaceuticals in North America and
In April 2004, California stalled a major attempt to introduce GM rice
producing human lactoferrin and lyzozyme into 10 counties, but efforts
to use rice and other food crops to produce hazardous pharmaceuticals
have continued unabated.
On 12 July, the European Union (EU) announced the award of 12 million
euros to a network of laboratories in 11 European countries plus South
Africa to explore the possibilities of producing pharmaceuticals grown
in genetically modified plants. The consortium, "Pharma-Planta", will
use plants to produce vaccines and treatments against major diseases
including AIDS, rabies, diabetes and TB. Human trials of the drugs are
to begin within the next five years. The project is co-ordinated in the
UK by Prof. Julian Ma of St. George’s Medical School London; and John
Innes Centre, UK’s top GM crop research institute is also a member of
A day later, it was revealed that South Africa, the only member of the
consortium outside Europe, is to be the test site of the first pharm
crops. South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is
particularly interested in potential vaccines against HIV. Philip Dale,
plant technologist at John Innes Centre in Norwich and the project’s
biosafety co-ordinator, reportedly said that the cost of 24-hour
surveillance of GM fields in the UK has made it expensive to conduct
similar trials in Britain.
The use of Third World countries for testing and producing plant-based
pharmaceuticals unacceptable both in Europe and the United States smacks
of colonialism. It also raises the spectre of unmonitored and
unregulated human exposures to the dangerous products. This problem will
be exacerbated as opposition to pharm crops is growing in the United
States, and more Third World countries will be targeted for test sites
and production facilities. ISIS has played a key role in exposing the
marketing of pharm crop products in the United States previously
unbeknownst to the public, via a gaping loophole in the US regulatory
system (see "Pharm crop products in US market", this issue).
A coalition of consumer and environmental organizations in the US issued
a call for a moratorium on genetically engineered pharm crops on 21
July. They want the California state agencies to conduct a rigorous
investigation of the potential hazards posed by a biotech company’s plan
to produce pharmaceutical drugs from genetically engineered rice.
There is an urgent need for proper international regulation on the
testing and production of plant-based pharmaceuticals. The first step
may be a wider discussion of the drawbacks and dangers of plant-based
pharmaceuticals as well the "advantages" put forward by proponents in
academe and corporations. The overlooked dangers of pharm crops include
pharmaceuticals that are toxic, that could produce immune sensitization
followed by anaphylaxis, or oral tolerance leading to loss of immunity
to pathogens; and general loss of confidence in the food supply. These
have been discussed in numerous reviews from the Institute of Science in
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has run a
number of electronic conferences around "Agricultural Biotechnology for
Developing Countries - an Electronic Forum". These moderated discussions
have been quite productive. It is time to have an electronic forum on
"Plant-based Pharmaceuticals in Developing Countries".
Do contact the administrator of the FAO project Dr. John Ruane, at
email@example.com to call for such a forum as a matter of urgency.
The FAO forums are described at the following URL:
It is important that the testing and production of plant-based
pharmaceutical in the Third World are made public before they are
quietly and extensively carried out without the informed consent of
those directly affected.
Meanwhile, it is imperative to impose a ban on field test releases and
biopharmaceutical production by multinational corporations and
foundations, especially in Third World countries.
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