[A-List] Errors sow new doubts for biotech
sherrynstan at igc.org
Thu Dec 26 03:03:00 MST 2002
[Yesterday, after stuffing myself with a pretty traditional Xmas dinner, I
took my new grandson, Jaydin, into the little bedroom we've converted into
our "movie room" (there's a couch and a VCR). He was 6 days old, so I
figured it was time for him to see a good dinosaur movie... Jurassic Park.
He was pretty unimpressed, and in fact fell asleep as the first human
victim was being consumed by a Velociraptor. He'd just knocked off two
bottles and could have slept through the installation of a new roof. But I
watched it. I've seen that movie a lot. It's one of my favorites. The
best lines are from Jeff Goldblum's character, Dr. Malcolm, the chaos
theorist, who tells them, "Genetic power's the most awesome force the world
has ever seen, but you weild it like a kid who's found his dad's gun." I
guess that's why this story (below) jumps out at me. People have been
warning for years that Monsanto and others (There's a Biotech Center not
six miles from my house, at the Reasearch Triangle Park) were making
Franken-foods, only to be called Luddite Neanderthals for their trouble.
Well, the problems are peaking out like an iceberg now, and - once again -
the Luddite Neanderthals turn out to have been right. Dr. Malcolm could be
the one to tell them, "The lack of humility before nature that's being
displayed here staggers me." -SG]
----- Original Message -----
From: "Ralph Johansen" <michele at maui.net>
To: "Ralph Johansen" <michele at maui.net>
Sent: Wednesday, December 25, 2002 8:13 PM
Subject: [A-List] Errors sow new doubts for biotech
> Copyright © 2002 The International Herald Tribune | www.iht.com
> Errors sow new doubts for biotech
> Justin Gillis The Washington Post
> Tuesday, December 24, 2002
> Modified crops face tighter rules in U.S.
> KNIERIM, Iowa One spring day, just outside this hamlet in north-central
> Iowa, two brothers named Joe and Bill Horan tore open a big wooden crate
> find a lot of paperwork and some bags of seed corn.
> They planted the corn and watched it grow tall in the rich black earth of
> their native state, one of the best places in the world to grow that
> This was not just any old corn: The plants had been genetically altered
> produce a drug in their kernels that might prove useful for people with
> life-threatening ailment cystic fibrosis.
> The crop was the culmination of a half-dozen years of effort by the Horan
> brothers, who felt they were well on their way to establishing a new
> industry for the Corn Belt and its hard-pressed farmers.
> Fields of food plants would become living factories capable of churning
> as many as 400 new drugs and industrial enzymes. New laboratories and
> workers would be needed to purify the drugs. The investment could
> be worth billions of dollars.
> "You can see what this starts to look like to a place like rural Iowa,"
> Horan said.
> But today the Horan brothers' dream is threatened, and the biotechnology
> industry in the United States is in turmoil. Errors by ProdiGene Inc., a
> small biotech company based in College Station, Texas, have called into
> question the whole idea of growing drugs in food crops, seeming to
> years of warnings from environmental groups.
> ProdiGene's mistakes opened the possibility that traces of genetically
> altered corn had reached other crops intended for human consumption. In
> case, 155 acres (63 hectares) of corn that might have been contaminated
> pollen from genetically altered crops had to be burned. In another, bits
> genetically altered corn may have been mixed in with a crop of soybeans.
> Those soybeans were harvested and brought to a warehouse containing
> more bushels (175,000 cubic meters). After learning of the problem, the
> Agriculture Department determined that about 550 tractor-trailer loads of
> beans would have to be destroyed.
> ProdiGene has acknowledged errors in both incidents, agreed to a $250,000
> fine and said it would reimburse the Agriculture Department as much as $3
> million to buy and burn the entire warehouse full of beans.
> No suspect grain is known to have reached the food supply, but the errors
> nonetheless set off a political struggle, with farm interests, food
> companies, biotech companies and government agencies debating what to do
> New rules to regulate "pharming" have been in the works at the U.S.
> Department of Agriculture for a while, but now they are likely to get
> tougher, and two other agencies - the Food and Drug Administration and
> Environmental Protection Agency - also appear ready to take a stronger
> approach. Bills to strengthen regulation are pending in Congress.
> Broad public interests are at stake. Plants may be the cheapest way, or
> some cases the only way, to produce a host of proteins that would be
> as drugs, industrial compounds or even renewable sources of fuel.
> But the recent problems raise questions about whether these unusual
> if planted widely, could be properly confined or whether they would
> inevitably make their way into the food supply.
> In the mid-1990s, Monsanto Co. and its competitors introduced crop
> containing foreign genes to help the plants resist worms and weeds. These
> varieties were a hit with farmers and quickly took over half the U.S.
> acreage of row crops but then ran into fierce opposition, particularly in
> Europe. The crops have generally proven safe to eat. But confining them
> their plots has proven to be the Achilles's heel of the technology:
> genetically altered crops are starting to show up in unexpected places.
> most dramatic example occurred in 2000, when a corn variety called
> approved for use only as an animal food, made its way into the food
> and wound up on grocery shelves, causing concern about allergic reactions
> and prompting expensive recalls of taco shells and other products.
> The pace of development slowed, though biotech companies continued to
> forward with plant research. These days, the new frontier is "plant-made
> pharmaceuticals," a catch-all term that includes industrial enzymes.
> Well before the recent troubles, environmental groups wondered what would
> happen if, say, animals were exposed to human drugs by eating field
> These groups often favor health-related uses of the technology but want
> these plants locked up in greenhouses or laboratories - a restriction the
> biotech companies say is impractical.
> More recently, scarred by the StarLink experience, food companies and
> influential lobbies in Washington have raised alarm bells, contending
> federal regulators have failed to put adequate safeguards in place.
> "We are the final step to the consumer," said Rhona Applebaum, executive
> vice president of the National Food Processors Association. "The food
> industry is left holding the bag."
> Copyright © 2002 The International Herald Tribune
More information about the A-List