United States, July 11, 2002 – More than 300 field trials of genetically engineered biopharmaceuticals crops already conducted in secret locations in the US.

The Genetically Engineered Food Alert Coalition, composed of consumer and environmental groups in the US released today a new report entitled “Manufacturing Drugs and Chemicals in Crops: Biopharming Poses New Threats to Consumers, Farmers, Food Companies and the Environment”, which alerts about the dangers of a new form of genetic contamination produced by genetically engineered bio-pharmaceutical crops.

The new crops, already planted in over 300 field trials at secret locations nationwide, include plants that produce an abortion-inducing chemical, growth hormones, a blood clotter, and trypsin, an allergenic enzyme.

“Just one mistake by a biotech company and we’ll be eating other people’s prescription drugs in our corn flakes,” said Larry Bohlen, Director of Health and Environment Programs at Friends of the Earth US, a member of the Coalition. “The USDA should prohibit the planting of food crops engineered with drugs and chemicals to protect the food supply from contamination.”

The National Academy of Sciences in the US warns: “…it is possible that crops transformed to produce pharmaceutical or other industrial compounds might mate with plantations grown for human consumption, with the unanticipated result of novel chemicals in the human food supply.” And the editors of Nature Biotechnology recently warned: “Current gene-containment strategies cannot work reliably in the field.”

The majority of engineered bio-pharmaceuticals and chemicals are in corn, a prolific pollinator. ProdiGene, the company with the most plantings of drug and chemical-producing plants, projects that 10% of the corn crop will be devoted to biopharm production by 2010. StarLink corn, planted on less than 1% of total US corn acreage, contaminated hundreds of food products and corn seed stock with a potentially allergenic protein despite the use of gene containment measures. Far from supporting containment strategies such as buffer areas, Anthony Laos, ProdiGene’s CEO, wrote farmers in 2001 that: “We will be dealing with these distances until we can gain regulatory approval to lessen or abandon these requirements altogether.” Some companies also propose extracting drugs or chemicals from plants, then selling the remainder. Incomplete extraction would mean drugs or chemicals in food or feed.

In a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the coalition called for an end to open air cultivation of crops engineered to produce prescription drugs or industrial chemicals. The coalition proposed that the USDA permit only contained cultivation of non-food plants under the same controlled circumstances as other drug production.

For more information contact:
Juan Lopez, FoEI 32 2 542 01 87
Larry Bohlen, FoE US 1 202 783 0444