NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Food Processors Break Ranks With Biotech Industry Over Medicinal Plants

November 5, 2002

The U.S. food industry loved biotech when that industry was researching and developing genetically modified food crops. But now a rift is developing between the two industries over biotech companies' plans to move into genetic modification of food plants to produce drugs and chemicals.

  • So called bio-pharming exploits the ability of plants to make medically important proteins at far less expense than fermentation factories.
  • Corn, for example, can be modified to supply human monoclonal antibodies, antibodies to treat herpes simplex virus, enzymes to treat cystic fibrosis and trypsin for making insulin.
  • But many food executives fear that these properties might accidentally wind up in their products -- prompting expensive recalls.
  • Food trade groups are pressing the biotechnology industry to make pharmaceuticals only from non-food crops such as tobacco -- but food crops such as corn, canola, potatoes and tomatoes are the plants of choice for many bio-tech researchers.

So politically powerful trade groups for the $500 billion food sector are preparing to lobby federal regulators for new rules that would make life far more difficult for bio-pharming firms such as Dow Chemical, Monsanto and others.

The Department of Agriculture already requires bio-pharming inventors to keep their experimental crops a certain distance from fields of related plants and to time the reproductive cycle of their fields so that they are out of synch with those of neighbors' fields.

Source: Scott Kilman, "Food, Biotech Industries Feud," Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2002.

For text (WSJ subscribers)


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