Pharmaceutical Rice in Missouri Threatens Food Supply

Pharmaceutical Rice in Missouri Threatens Food Supply

Bill Freese, Friends of the Earth, 573-447-1588, [email protected]
Ellen Treimel, Missouri Public Interest Research Group, 314-454-9560, [email protected]
Craig Culp, Center for Food Safety, 202-547-9359 or 301-509-0925, [email protected]

Federal and State Officials Urged to Stop Proposed Field Trials to Protect Farmers, Consumers and the Missouri Rice & Food Industries

COLUMBIA, Mo. / WASHINGTON — Field trials of genetically engineered, pharmaceuticalproducing rice would result in contamination of the food supply and should not be allowed to proceed in Missouri, consumer and environmental groups told federal and state authorities today. Pending state and federal approval, up to 204.5 acres of pharmaceutical rice could be grown this year in rice-growing southeast Missouri, the largest planting of a pharmaceutical crop yet attempted anywhere in the world. The pharmaceutical rice was developed by Ventria Bioscience.

“Missouri farmers and consumers should not have to worry about drugs contaminating their crops and food,” said Bill Freese, research analyst with Friends of the Earth and an expert on biopharming, “but that’s just what will happen if Ventria is allowed to start growing its pharmaceutical rice in the state. We urge federal and Missouri state authorities to just say no to this foolish experimentation with drug-producing rice.”

Biopharming is an experimental technique in which crops like rice, barley and tobacco are genetically engineered with human or animal genes to become biofactories for the production of experimental pharmaceuticals. Yet not a single plant-made pharmaceutical has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“We must not allow Missouri to become a testing ground for an unproven technology that threatens farmers, consumers and the state’s food industry,” said Ellen Treimel, field organizer with the Missouri Public Interest Research Group.

In a 13-page briefing paper sent to federal and Missouri state officials, the groups describe the many ways pharmaceutical rice could be spread, including by rice-eating birds, floods, cross-pollination with other rice or related weeds, rice grains transported in farm machinery, or human error in cultivation, shipping and disposal.

“Just a few years ago, pharmaceutical corn got mixed into soybeans and regular corn,” said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety. “The contaminated food had to be destroyed, costing millions of dollars. The same thing could happen with Ventria’s rice.”

“The Food and Drug Administration has not approved these rice-grown pharmaceuticals, and it may never do so,” added Freese. “It is irresponsible of the FDA to allow untested, unapproved pharmaceuticals to be grown in food crops when the risks of contamination are so great.”

The briefing paper cites scientific studies to highlight the potential human health impacts of Ventria’s pharmaceuticals, which are artificial versions of human milk and blood proteins. These risks include aggravation of bacterial infections, allergic reactions and autoimmune disorders.

The groups also dispute claims by industry representatives that biopharming will be an economic success for rice farmers or that new jobs will be created in Missouri.

“The claims they’re making about new jobs and benefits for Missouri farmers from biopharming are pure speculation,” said Treimel. “The truth is, neither Ventria nor any other biopharm company has gotten a single plant-made pharmaceutical approved by the FDA. No products, no jobs.”

Ventria Bioscience is presently based in California. In 2004, federal and California authorities quashed the company’s bid to grow 120 acres of pharmaceutical rice in Southern California, partly because of a prior violation of field trial permit conditions. In November 2004, the company announced plans to set up shop at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville. The move was prompted by opposition to pharmaceutical rice in California, a $30 million subsidy package from the state of Missouri, and a laxer regulatory environment in the state.