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Bouncing Back from the Biopharming Blues
According to the consumer watchdog organization the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the use of "genetic engineering to grow drugs or industrial chemicals in food crops is picking up speed." CSPI states that a "a 2002 scandal involving an errant biopharm crop...temporarily put the brakes on the practice..." The brakes are apparently starting to come off as USDA has received 16 biopharming permit requests in the last 12 months, about two-thirds of which are for food crops.

CSPI goes on to claim that it "is clear is that the biopharming industry has been given a big green light by federal regulators, even though there is great concern among food producers and consumers about using food crops to produce drugs." What is clear to CSPI is not so clear to Winston. He doesn't see any sign of a green light other than the one produced by the promise of agricultural biotechnology.

Although biopharming holds great promise, it is not without controversy. However, consumer watchdog groups are not necessarily the organizations most concerned about biopharming. According to CSPI, the National Food Processors Association has said that it "finds there is an unacceptable risk to the integrity of the food supply associated with use of food and feed crops as ‘factories' for the production of pharmaceutical or industrial chemicals." CSPI also states that the Grocery Manufacturers of America "strongly recommends that non-food crops be used for biopharming."

For their part, while CSPI advocates "strict regulatory oversight of genetically engineered crops, it believes that agricultural biotechnology holds great promise for human health and the environment." Winston agrees that biopharming holds great promise.

Ultimately, Winston believes that decisions on biopharming permits need to be science based. CSPI has urged that "the entire permit process should be open and transparent." Winston agrees, provided of course, that there is appropriate protection for intellectual property. Above all, Winston hopes that the legitimate need for sound science is not used as an excuse for needless regulatory delays.

  • Click for CSPI press release.

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