Biotech Crops Come Under Scrutiny

MARCH 01, 2004

A report by the National Research Council could hurt Iowa?s chances of developing biotech drugs. The council is the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences. A panel of scientists warned against genetically engineering food crops to produce human and animal drugs from biotech versions of corn because of the difficulty of controlling the biotech plants. The report, which was requested by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), said that a plant or animal used for food would be a "poor choice" for industrial use unless it was raised "under stringent conditions of confinement."

The study examined a variety of issues surrounding the problems of containing genetically modified plants, animals, or bacteria. More research is needed into the techniques of containing biotech products. Biotech companies ceased growing pharmaceutical corn in Iowa following the 2002 discovery that 1 company, Prodigene Inc, had failed to control pharmaceutical crops in Iowa and Nebraska. This issue has been a subject of debate among drug and food companies. Drug companies could save a lot of money with "biopharming" because of the potentially low cost of mass-producing compounds in a crop such as corn. Food companies, however, are concerned that a pharmaceutical crop could contaminate their products.

Although the USDA did not immediately comment on the study?s recommendations, last year the department tightened regulations on the cultivation and inspection of pharmaceutical industrial crops.