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[SANET-MG] Unpopular biopharming in Missouri
The article below tells a part of the story. The large "test" sites
being planed for Missouri are large enough for commercial production and
US regulations allow commercial production on "test" sites.
The article seems unaware that the pharmaceuticals can be produced in
liquid plant culture so there is no reason to produce the human gene
products outside of laboratory culture.
Lawrence Journal World
Missouri making unpopular first venture into biopharming
By Margaret Stafford - Associated Press Writer
Monday, March 14, 2005
Maryville, Mo. — When Ventria Biosciences arrived in northwest Missouri,
the company brought with it a hope for a regional economic boost spurred
by expected medical breakthroughs.
That's one argument. The other insists that Ventria's arrival from
California brought nothing more than the potential for lasting damage to
the state's farmers.
There is no argument, however, that Ventria's decision to relocate has
brought the debate over biopharming -- the practice of genetically
modifying crops to grow medications -- to Missouri.
"I'm totally confident this is the future," said Dean Hubbard, the
president of Northwest Missouri State University, who invited Ventria to
his community about 85 miles north of Kansas City. "It is beyond the
adventure stage. It's been proven you can do it. Our return in the
long-term will be great. It will far exceed our investment."
Last November, Northwest Missouri and Ventria agreed to make the company
the anchor of a proposed Center of Excellence for plant-made
pharmaceuticals on the university's campus in Maryville. Hubbard
believes the industry will reap millions in revenue, reduce the cost of
medicines and provide Northwest students with opportunities in
The university provided $5 million in privately raised venture capital
and will build an on-campus biotechnology center with space set aside
for Ventria. In return, Ventria is moving its headquarters, about 13
employees and processing functions from Sacramento, Calif., to
Maryville. It also will grow 70 percent of its U.S. field production in
In California, Ventria planted small plots of rice genetically enhanced
with synthetic human genes to produce the proteins lactoferrin and
lysozyme, which the company hopes to harvest and refine for use in
medicines to fight diarrhea and dehydration. The proteins occur
naturally in human tears, saliva and breast milk, but it can cost up to
$30,000 a gram to extract them.
It's the presence of the human genes in the rice that worries farmers,
especially in southwest Missouri, the heart of the state's rice
industry. They're concerned the Ventria crops could cross-pollinate with
other food crops, introducing the foreign genes into the regular food chain.
Even if such cross-pollination never occurs, fear that it might could
lead buyers to avoid food crops grown nearby.
"These people say they can contain it," said Sonny Martin, a Butler
County rice farmer who is chairman of the Missouri Rice and
Merchandising Council. "But they are not going to net this rice to keep
birds out. They can't contain the water runoff here."
Ventria faced the same arguments in California last year when it wanted
to increase its acres of open-field rice production. The state's rice
growers were concerned the genetically modified rice would hurt their
$500 million business, and others raised concerns about Ventria's
efforts to prevent cross-pollinization.
Scott Deeter, president of Ventria, said the company is not moving to
Missouri to escape the controversy. He said Missouri's abundant land and
water, and Northwest Missouri State's efforts to build around Ventria,
drew the company to the Midwest.
"We've been growing rice in California for six years without any impacts
on the California rice industry," Deeter said. "We have a very highly
regulated process to make sure production is done in a safe manner."
The company has applied to grow up to 200 acres of genetically modified
rice in Scott, Cape Girardeau and Mississippi counties in southeast
Missouri. Eventually, Ventria hopes to grow thousands of acres of the
modified rice, Deeter said.
Nearly all of Missouri's $100 million rice crop is grown in southeast
Missouri. Farmers there have met with Ventria officials and Missouri
Secretary of Agriculture Fred Ferrell, presenting a petition with 175
signatures opposing the plans.
"I'd say 95-97 percent of the farmers here are against this," Martin
said. "Those who are for it are looking to fill their pockets off it."
Martin said the farmers are planning some efforts to, at minimum, put
off the Ventria planting until next year, but he declined to elaborate.
Genetically modified crops are regulated by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, with state
governments allowed to review safety procedures and suggest more
stringent regulation of the companies before a permit is issued.
The farmers have the support of advocacy groups such as Friends of the
Earth, as well as trade organizations such as the National Food
Processors Assn. and the Grocery Manufacturers of America, which have
opposed genetically modified food crops.
The Union of Concerned Scientists in December called on the Agriculture
Department to ban open-field growing of food crops engineered to produce
pharmaceutical and industrial products. The group acknowledges the
potential benefits of plant-grown pharmaceuticals, but suggests
companies use nonfood crops such as tobacco, or grown them in greenhouses.
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