Nov. 15, 2002, just-food.com: After reporting
two separate incidents where its plant-produced pharmaceuticals
have mixed with other grains, biotech company ProdiGene
is facing investigations by the US Department of Agriculture
The use of food crops to grow special proteins and
compounds for pharmaceuticals is now being questioned.
Food companies have asked the USDA and the Food and
Drug Administration to stop the practice. Environmental
groups have long warned possible risks from inadvertent
mixing of plant components as a human health issue.
One route would be possible allergic reactions if the
bio-tech crops – which would look like generic
corn or soybeans – were used for food.
“Deeply concerned” is how the National
Food Processors Association – which includes General
Mills, Kellogg and Del Monte – felt about the
Karil Kochenderfer, the association’s environmental
director, said, “We strongly urge the biotech
industry to direct its substantial research capabilities
into investigating the use of nonfood crops for the
development of pharmaceuticals,” according to
Reuters news wire.
The USDA quarantined 500,000 bushels of soybeans –
worth about $2.7 million -- in Nebraska this week on
news that fragments of ProdiGene bio-corn may have been
mixed in. The soybeans grew in a field where the proprietary
bio-corn crop had failed, then been disked down to make
way for re-planting with the beans. Federal authorities
have ordered the beans destroyed. No dollar value has
The USDA ordered ProdiGene to burn 155 acres of soybeans
in a similar incident reported in Iowa in September.
If ProdiGene is found to have violated any federal
regulation in the incidents, it could face fines of
up to $500,000 per violation, with officers facing a
year of jail time, the Associated Press reported Friday.
Between the two episodes of escaped genetically altered
crops, the U.S. biotech industry had announced that
it would voluntarily stop growing some GMO crops in
the Midwest and Plains states to ease fears that food
crops could be contaminated. The Biotechnology Industry
Organization (BIO) said it would not plant industrial
or pharmaceutical crops in Illinois, Iowa, most of Missouri,
and parts of Ohio, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska
and Kentucky, Reuters reported in late October.
A spokeman said at the time that most of the pharma-crops
were intentionally being planted in field trials away
from major food-growing areas. However, the fields are
not distinguishable from traditional corn crops, raising
alarm among small-scale grower who depend on genetic
purity for organic production or heirloom seed integrity.
ProdiGene’s vice president, Robert Dose, said
the company will cease Corn-Belt production of biotech
corn altered to produce trypsin, a protein used in manufacturing
insulin, Reuters reported.
The biotech trade group’s ban on growing in the
Corn Belt was first mentioned in a list of suggestions
from the USDA and FDA. Also on the list were recommendations
to include manufacturing tests to detect biotech crops
an strict guidelines to ensure they are sufficiently
Friends of the Earth has urged the USDA to ban all
“open air” plantings of pharma-crops, saying
a mistake by a biotech company could result in consumers
“eating other people’s presecription drugs
in our corn flakes.”