Brussels, November 15, 2002 – The United States food chain has been contaminated by Genetically Modified (GM) maize plants used to produce a pharmaceutical or industrial chemical but US authorities are unwilling as of today to disclose what the mysterious GM “Pharmaceutical” maize is that was found for the first time among food crops in two US States (Iowa and Nebraska).

Friends of the Earth is seeking urgent reassurance from the European Commission that food in Europe has not been contaminated. The company that produced the maize, Prodigene, carries out a range of outdoor tests on crops containing pharmaceuticals and industrial products in at least 96 locations in the US.

The ProdiGene incidents reportedly frustrated the US food industry, which stated on Thursday Nov. 14 that biotech companies need to change which crops they have chosen to make drugs and industrial products.

“This was an accident waiting to happen. If you grow GM crops outdoors then they will eventually contaminate the rest of the food chain. We are seeking urgent reassurances that food imported into Europe has not been contaminated,” said Adrian Bebb, GM Campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Tuesday Nov. 12 that it quarantined over $2.7 million worth of soya beans (500 000 tonnes) destined for human consumption at a Nebraska grain elevator after finding parts of ProdiGene’s GM maize mixed with the soya beans. They later ordered their destruction.

USDA authorities, who refuse to reveal the chemical or drug genetically engineered in the GM maize, also claim that a similar incident happened last year involving the same company. The Soya crop was planted and harvested on the same site where a GM “pharmaceutical” maize was grown on the previous year. Seeds dropped by the maize grew this year and contaminated the Soya crop.

Friends of the Earth, as part of a wider US coalition, warned the US Government earlier this year that this could happen. The coalition is now filing a legal petition demanding an immediate halt to the outdoor growing of “pharmaceutical” GM crops.

Research into the company involved, Prodigene, reveals that the contamination could be one of the following :

* Aids vaccine gp120 — a glycoprotein
* Blood-clotting agent — Aprotinin
* Trypsin – Digestive enzyme that can be used in leather tanning or to
produce insulin.
* Industrial adhesive Laccase — an enzyme derived from a fungus

Other “pharmaceutical” GM crops reportedly grown by ProdiGene include experimental oral vaccines for hepatitis B and for a pig disease, transmissible gastroenteritis. According to USDA records ProdiGene has received 85 test permits for experimental open-air trials of “pharmaceutical” GM crops and chemical crops for planting in at least 96 locations.

“ Once you start genetically engineering drugs and chemicals into crop plants then you really are opening Pandora’s box. The consequences could be catastrophic, ” said Adrian Bebb of GM Campaigner at Friends of the Earth.


Adrian Bebb, Friends of the Earth GM Campaigner in the UK + 44 771 2843211
Geert Ritsema, Friends of the Earth Europe GM campaigner in Brussels, + 32 2 5420180 or + 31 6 29005908

Larry Bohlen, Friends of the Earth, Health and Environment Programs Director, +1 202 783 7400 extension 102