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Pharm corn returns to Iowa

Des Moines Register
June 11, 2005

Washington, D.C. - Pharmaceutical corn is returning to Iowa for the first time in three years.

State officials on Friday approved plans by Iowa State University scientists to conduct a field trial on land belonging to the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant near Middletown, Ia.

Robin Pruisner, state entomologist for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, said there would be multiple layers of planting restrictions and security designed to prevent any chance of contaminating conventional corn.

"We want to do as good a job as possible in making sure everything goes right, that everything is done with the utmost care and concern," she said.

The trial could help revive dreams of Gov. Tom Vilsack and agricultural interests in the state to develop an industry producing crops for high-value pharmaceutical and industrial uses.

The fenced Army base, which covers 19,000 acres, is seen as a potential site for long-term production of the crops.

Field tests of the crops were halted after a biotech company, ProdiGene Inc., was caught mismanaging pharmaceutical corn plots in Iowa and Nebraska three years ago.

The U.S. Agriculture Department, under pressure from the food industry, tightened planting restrictions, making it more difficult to find places where the biotech corn could be grown.

The new field trial will consist of two small plots, each about one-tenth of an acre in size, located in a woody area of the Army base. The plots will be planted next week.

The nearest cornfield is about 1.2 miles away and was planted about two months ago, said Bill Horan of Rockwell City, who will manage the trial.

The USDA preliminarily approved plans for the Iowa trial in May, but the state asked for additional measures, including 24-hour surveillance of the site. The site also insisted that the plants be pollinated and harvested by hand.

"We in the state believe it's important to go above and beyond the minimum requirement to ensure that the rest of the corn in Iowa is produced in a manner that is not jeopardized," Pruisner said.

She said USDA officials agreed to the additional rules.

The crop will not pollinate until late August or early September, long after any other corn in the state, said Horan, who specializes in growing biotech crops.

The biotech corn is being developed to make a medication to prevent diarrhea in pigs, and possibly in humans. This year's crop is to be used for feeding trials in pigs.

The crop was grown in Colorado last year.

The Army site, because of its security and isolation, will allow for greater control of the crops, said Lisa Lorenzen, director of industry relations and biotechnology liaison at Iowa State.

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