GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 2nd  February 2004

Call for NZ ban on Pharmaceutical crops- 100% separation unachievable

New Zealand should ban pharmaceutical crops outright to prevent a serious threat to public health.

The call follows announcements in the US that more pharmaceutical-crops are to be released despite growing alarm amongst US Grocery manufacturers after earlier contamination accidents.

So called pharming�- using crops and animals to produce pharmaceuticals- has already been promoted to New Zealand farmers by the biotech industry as an exciting new profit source. GE Free New Zealand believes any moves to introduce pharm-crops here could destroy our reputation for producing safe food and thus undermine our national economy.

In the US already, hundreds of hectares of food crops had to be destroyed because of contamination by GE corn used to produce a vaccine. Until there are systems to guarantee 100% separation � even from insects and soil these kinds of crops must never be allowed in New Zealand�, says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment.

It is also our government�s duty to oppose release of such crops overseas too and thus prevent a global contamination problem,� Mr. Carapiet says.

The issue of �Pharming� animals has already raised public concern and the contamination of GE-free food by existing GE variants is a growing problem for soy, maize and canola. The threat from new pharm� GM crops goes beyond denial of basic rights and loss of markets, presenting a significant threat to public health.

It is vital regulators around the world develop systems to ensure 100% separation of all GM crops from conventional production systems. Until this happens no release of experimental GE crops should go ahead. Unfortunately efforts to ensure segregation are already failing and the biotech- industry lobby is promoting mandatory acceptance of such contamination.

The idea of forcing consumers around the world to accept thresholds of GE contamination is an outrageous attack on basic rights. By pushing on with Pharm crops� the biotech industry are increasing the likelihood of significant food contamination and public health incidents.

Even low levels of contamination can be lethal, as the death of scores of people from GE L-Tryptophan has shown. The Royal Commission on GM found that the death and maiming of thousands of people had been caused by a contaminant in the product that was still deemed 99.9% pure: a standard exceeding levels of acceptable contamination� being lobbied for today.

GE Free New Zealand believe it unethical to force people to accept contamination by GE constructs such as viral promoters and anti-biotic resistance genes � or even vaccines such as

The New Zealand government should move to ban release of any such crops and oppose their release in other countries at international fora. 

The international trade in food makes all nations vulnerable to mistakes in other countries. A global halt to GE releases pending a system to ensure 100% segregation is the only option, and the New Zealand government- as a responsible global citizen-.should advocate such a ban.

Contact Jon Carapiet � 09 815

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Genetically modified rice to be grown for medicine


Genetically modified crops engineered to produce drugs are to be grown commercially for the first time.

An American biotech company plans to start growing medicines to treat diarrhoea in modified rice in April. Its proposals were examined last week by regulatory bodies in California, but they have no power to stop the planting.

The rice will usher in a second generation of GM crops, which are bound To polarise opinion even more than those that have already caused controversy. Unlike current crops they could offer real benefits to millions of people - but they also pose far greater health risks.

Top officials at Britain's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs believe the danger is so great that the new crops should never be grown in the UK. But Downing Street has cautiously endorsed them. 

The possibilities for growing drugs in plants - dubbed "pharming" - have been researched for years, with scientists developing a wide range of vaccines and other medicines in several common foods in the laboratory. 

But now Ventria Bioscience, based in Sacramento, is to plant 52.6ha with two varieties of GM rice that will produce lactoferrin and lysozyme, infection-fighting chemicals that it will market for use in oral rehydration products to treat severe diarrhoea.

It says this could generate enough lactoferrin to treat at least 650,000 sick children, and sufficient lysozyme for 6.5 million patients. It hopes to expand production to 405ha within a few years.

The company's plans have already caused alarm in California's rice-growing country. Organic farmers, in particular, suspect the GM rice will contaminate their crops; the company says there is "no risk".

The arguments were thrashed out last week before the California Rice Commission, which is drawing up a protocol of conditions under which The rice can be grown. But president Tim Johnson says that neither the commission nor the state's Agriculture Secretary, to whom it reports, has the power to stop the rice being cultivated.

The chemicals in the rice are relatively mild - they are found in mother's milk - but are likely to pave the way for stronger ones. Scientists, for example, have developed vaccines to treat diseases ranging from measles to hepatitis B - and antibodies to treat cancer and dental caries, provide contraceptives and prevent genital herpes - in potatoes, maize, wheat, rice, alfalfa, carrots and tomatoes.

Ventria says that its plants "will become 'factories' that manufacture therapeutic proteins to combat life-threatening illnesses". It adds that "plants improved through the use of biotechnology" can produce them for innovative treatments for cancer, HIV, heart disease, diabetes,  Alzheimer's disease, cystic fibrosis, kidney disease and many others.


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