Outdoors 'Pharming' of Drugs risks Contamination

Press release - 7 September, 2001

Greenpeace activists board the oiltanker Crude Dio in the Bosphorus Straight entrance, into the Black Sea, as part of their campaign against climate change

Open field trials of genetically engineered (GE) rice containing human genes are being carried out in the heart of the California's traditional rice growing region, according to Greenpeace. The experiment is being carried out to produce pharmaceuticals. Activists from the international environmental group marked out the field with giant syringes to highlight the risk of growing drug-producing GE crops outdoors. No special effort to protect the environment and the food chain had been made.

The nature of all of the compounds produced by these GE rice plants in Sutter County has been kept secret from the public but Greenpeace has identified two of the proteins produced in them as human lactoferrin and human lysozyme, commonly found in human breast milk, bile and tears.

"There is just no excuse to allow drug producing crops to be grown out in the fields where they can contaminate the environment and food chain by spreading their genes to wild relative and to conventional crops growing near by. These pharmaceuticals can be produced in other ways. This rice and all the other GE pharm crops out there should be banned and permits for future open field trials must be revoked," said Kimberly Wilson, Genetic Engineering Campaigner for Greenpeace USA.

According to the information submitted by the company Applied Phytologics Incorporated (API) to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), eight of the nine compounds produced in its field trial come from humans, in other words from rice engineered with human genes. The USDA imposes virtually no safety requirements specific to pharmaceutical crops. Despite Greenpeace's demand both the company and the California Department of Food and Agriculture failed to act upon the risk.

While the industry is already conducting open-air trials (1) of pharmaceutical rice, wheat, corn and barley, few regulations to protect public health and the environment are in place. The conventional rice at risk of GE contamination in California is exported mainly to Japan and Turkey. According to information available to Greenpeace, field trials with drug producing GE crops have been also taken place at least in Canada and France. Twenty companies world-wide are known to produce pharmaceutical through GE crops.

The incident also cast further doubt on US export markets. Only last year a genetically engineered variety of corn not approved for human consumption, StarLink, contaminated over 300 supermarket products, resulting in mass food recalls both in the US and in its trading partners.

Notes: (1) Field trials of crop plants producing pharmaceuticals, industrial enzymes, and other non-food proteins, conducted from 1992 through the present. Source: United States Department of Agriculture. Field test releases in the United States. http://www.nbiap.vt.edu/cfdocs/fieldtests1.cfm