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[SANET-MG] failure of USDA oversight of pharm crop trials
Report blasts oversight of test fields
Investigators say the USDA lacks details on what happens with pharma-crops.
By PHILIP BRASHER
REGISTER WASHINGTON BUREAU-The DesMoines Register, Iowa
December 30, 2005
Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has failed to
properly oversee field trials of genetically engineered crops, including
plants designed to produce chemicals for medical and industrial uses,
A report released Thursday by the USDA's inspector general said the
department "lacks basic information" on where field tests are or what is
done with the crops after they are harvested.
The report is the latest blow to prospects for developing an industry
based on mass-producing pharmaceutical chemicals from genetically
modified corn. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack once called the idea the "future of
During the inspector general investigation, auditors found that two
large harvests of pharmaceutical crops remained in storage at test sites
without the USDA's knowledge or approval.
The investigators also said that in 2003 the department failed to
inspect fields of pharmaceutical crops with the frequency that officials
said they would.
"Current (USDA) regulations, policies and procedures do not go far
enough to ensure the safe introduction of agricultural biotechnology,"
the report said.
The report "confirms the public's lack of confidence in the USDA to
oversee pharmaceutical and industrial chemical crops," said Susan
Prolman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group that has
been critical of the agricultural biotechnology industry.
USDA officials said they have made a number of improvements since the
investigation was done but disagree with some of the findings.
"We were addressing many of the issues as they were looking at the same
issues," said Cindy Smith, deputy administrator for biotechnology
regulatory services in the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection
She said violations cited in the report were minor. Also, the agency now
does all the required inspections of pharma-crop sites, including one
last summer near Burlington, Ia., she said.
The department is heeding one of the inspector general's suggestions and
may make it mandatory for researchers to provide global positioning
coordinates for test sites.
Smith's staff has grown from 23 to 65 since it was established in 2002.
The Agriculture Department oversaw 67,000 acres of biotech field trials
in 2004, up from 8,700 in 1994.
Relatively little of that acreage is devoted to pharmaceutical or
industrial crops, but there is special concern that those plants could
contaminate conventional crops or get into the food supply.
A small biotech company, ProdiGene Inc., was ordered to pay more than $3
million in penalties and cleanup costs in 2002 after mismanaging field
trials of pharmaceutical crops in Iowa and Nebraska.
Pharma crops are seen as a cheap way to mass-produce human and animal
drugs. Corn has been the crop of choice because it is relatively simple
to engineer and produces a lot of grain that can be easily stored and
In the article above it was not mentioned but it clear that US allows
commercial sale of products such as pharm crop drugs produced on field
test plots, some of which are rather large. It is interesting to note
that even though the pharm rice producing human gene products was
featured in my letter of yesterday.[SANET-MG] another pharm crop company
faces set back
Columbia Daily Tribune Ventria cancels move to Northwest Missouri
because , according to the article field production was increasing
tenfold. However, such production has not, apparently been approved by
USDA and FDA. Indeed, environmental impact studies that are required for
commercial release have not been submitted for public comment. The
"production" would have to be on "test" plots it seems. The current
discussion suggest the pharm crop regulation has broken down in USA
threatening the safety of the food crop production and making food
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