Skip to comments.GM Mishap Unite Friends And Foes
Posted on 11/19/2002 3:58:40 PM PST by blam
GM crop mishaps unite friends and foes
17:10 18 November 02
NewScientist.com news service
Friends and foes of the use of genetic engineering in US agriculture have united in criticising two accidents in which a food crop was contaminated by a crop from the previous year designed to yield pharmaceutical products.
The US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration announced last week that they had found such genetically modified corn growing in two soybean plots in the states of Iowa and Nebraska.
The GM corn had germinated from seeds left from 2001 plantings by the Texas-based company ProdiGene. The company was required to screen and remove these plants as part of its government permit.
A number of interested parties have now stepped up their calls for more safeguards to prevent drug-laced crops from ending up on the dinner table.
"This is a failure at an elementary level," says Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, DC. "They couldn't distinguish corn from soybeans and remove them from a field. That's like failing nursery school."
Down on the pharm
In July, New Scientist reported warnings from Rissler and other GM watchdogs that the US government rules for growing "pharmed" crops were far too lax (Print edition, 6 July, p 4).
The genes in the ProdiGene corn are a company secret, and the company had not supplied a comment before publication. But ProdiGene's website says its plants produce a variety of vaccines and human therapeutic proteins and industrial enzymes.
To prevent any spread of the altered corn or its genes, the US government has ordered that 155 acres of surrounding corn be burned and that a half million bushels of soybean harvested with the GM corn be quarantined. The US Food and Drug Administration may order its destruction. The cost of the action is estimated to total nearly $3 million. ProdiGene also faces heavy fines and possible criminal penalties for the blunder.
Even longtime advocates of plant biotechnology are worried. Politically influential food industry associations, such as the Grocery Manufacturers of America, were already quietly pushing for pharming to be restricted to using non-food crops.
Following the ProdiGene incident, they are speaking up. "Incidents like these can have ripple effects," says GMA spokesperson Stephanie Childs. "We don't want to lose international markets because we can't assure the safety and integrity of the food supply."
USDA spokesperson Ed Curlett says his agency will learn from the incident and decide whether current rules need to be tightened. "But the system seems to have worked," he says. "We caught this crop before it entered the animal or human food chain."
CropGen, a pro-GM group based in the UK, agrees that the incident showed the effectiveness of monitoring, but called the failure of ProdiGene to ensure that no GM corn persisted in the field "inexcusable".
However, Norman Ellstrand, a plant geneticist at the University of California, Riverside, says the US government was also lucky. "What if the GM corn had come up inside a corn field, instead of a soybean field?" he asks. "It could have cross pollinated and you'd have no idea where it was."
Do the Zimbabweans know something we don't?
Yup. This must be stopped dead in it's tracks. A farmer is being sued presently, this is a big case. (He used seed from his previous years' crop.)
BTW, they've already found some GM genes in wild corn in Mexico. (Oops!)