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[SANET-MG] pharm crops move to Monsanto land

I think we need to build a large fence around Missouri and call it
Monsanto land.
Company's move here may reflect relaxed climate
By Bill Lambrecht
Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau
Wednesday, Dec. 01 2004

WASHINGTON - Ventria Bioscience's recent decision to move from California to
Missouri may reflect the company's hopes for a gentler regulatory
climate for
its pharmaceutical rice, judging by a new report on state policies toward

The report, being issued today by the Pew Initiative on Food and
found that states have widely different approaches to genetically modified
crops. Some - California and Colorado among them - are more rigorous than

The report also found that states are demanding more authority, staff and
financial help to carry out their oversight role, and that these demands
will increase with more "biopharming" to produce medicines.

Michael Rodemeyer, executive director of the Pew Initiative, said the report
aims to help officials deal with a new generation of genetically engineered
crops that promise to be both valuable and controversial.

"I think we are still at the beginning of this technology," he said.
"When you
look at what's in the pipeline of universities and companies, there are
certainly new crops coming down the pike that will provide challenges for
regulators both at the state and federal level."

One of those crops is Ventria's rice, which the company is engineering
in hopes
of producing proteins used in manufacturing anti-microbial and anti-diarrhea

Ventria announced last month that it is moving its headquarters from
Sacramento, Calif., to Maryville, Mo., as part of a deal with Northwest
Missouri State University. The school is providing $5 million in operating
capital for the 11-year-old company.

Genetic engineering primarily is regulated at the federal level under a
that has changed little since the mid-1980s. But some states are
clamoring for
a bigger role, which Ventria experienced with the California Rice

Food companies, farmers and advocacy groups have raised concerns about
so-called "pharm crops" contaminating crops grown for food. Those sentiments
were expressed strongly in California, where some rice growers worried that
Ventria's rice would have a negative effect on the state's $500 million rice

In March, Ventria narrowly won approval from the California Rice
Commission in
its bid to become the first company to commercialize a pharmaceutical plant.
But the commission restricted production to parts of California that
don't grow
rice to avoid contaminating rice grown for food.

Illinois is among the handful of states with a law governing genetically
engineered crops and foods. It requires more rigorous state involvement in
experimental planting than in most states and reporting by companies both to
state agencies and local governments.

The Pew Initiative report did not include Missouri in the states it
Unlike Illinois, Missouri has no state law governing biotechnology, and
Missouri agencies are not known for aggressive regulation of genetically
engineered crops.

But Peter Hofherr, director of the state Department of Agriculture, said
Missouri is in the process of training several specialists to assist in
inspections, as part of a plan to develop "a pretty secure safety net"
for the
new generation of crops.

"Is Ventria going to face a lax regulatory environment in Missouri? No.
Are we
going to work with them as a partner? Yes. Are we going to protect the
of Missouri? Yes," he said.

Other states, too, are pushing for a bigger regulatory role, even though
it is
unclear under federal laws governing biotechnology how far state authority
extends, the Pew Initiative report found.

Kansas Agriculture Secretary Adrian Polansky said Wednesday that he is
with a new federal initiative that will train state officials to help
field tests of the new crops.

"We need to be very careful as we move forward to make sure that appropriate
safeguards are not only in place but are followed," he said, "and that
the risk
to the food supply is not an issue."

Reporter Bill Lambrecht
E-mail: blambrecht@post-dispatch.com
Phone: 202-298-6880

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