“Biopharmed crops are turning wildlife-and us-into lab animals:” Claire Hope Cummings
Unless the rice you buy is certified organic, or comes specifically from a farm that tests its rice crops for genetically modified (GM) traits, you could soon be eating rice tainted with actual human genes.
The only known GMO with inbred human traits in cultivation today is a GM rice product made by biotechnology company Ventria Bioscience and is currently being grown on 3,200 acres in Junction City, Kansas — and possibly elsewhere — and most people have no idea about it.
Since about 2006,Ventria has been quietly cultivating rice that has been genetically modified (GM) with genes from the human liver for the purpose of taking the artificial proteins produced by this “Frankenrice” and using them in pharmaceuticals. With approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA),Ventria has taken one of the most widely cultivated grain crops in the world today, and essentially turned it into a catalyst for producing new drugs.
According to the World Watch Institute ”the intrusion of transgenic rice into the Sacramento Valley presents significant risks to wildlife and to the delicate ecosystems on which it depends. And it threatens the $500 million California rice industry, which has worked hard to develop a high quality product (including a thriving organic rice business) and an environmentally friendly image through its efforts to protect waterfowl and shorebird habitat. Now the possibility that rice with human genes and other novel proteins could also contaminate the human food supply is stirring up a storm of controversy.”:
So far, California’s food crops have been free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs.) But two agrochemical corporations, Monsanto and Aventis/Bayer CropScience, are pushing for the right to grow herbicide tolerant (HT) rice here. And Ventria Bioscience, a small biotechnology company located in Sacramento, is seeking approval to enlarge the area they use to test their transgenic human protein rice. While they await approval for full commercial planting, both types of transgenic rice are being grown in the open air in the Sacramento Valley, where birds, insects, and other wildlife have unfettered access to them.
Ventria Bioscience’s rice is generating the most debate. Currently, the company is testing rice that has been genetically engineered with human genes to make two proteins found in human breast milk, lysozyme and lactoferrin. Nursing mothers supply these proteins to their babies in their milk, offering them enhanced resistance to bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes. Lactoferrin provides an iron supplement as well.
While Ventria is experimenting with several human gene-enhanced rice strains, it plans to use its human-breast-milk-laced rice as an “alternative to the use of antibiotics in poultry diets” and as a supplement in infant formula. Why would anyone take proteins that are already available in their natural form and genetically engineer them to create new recombinant forms of these same proteins? Because this is the only way a company can patent and own these valuable substances.
This new and largely untested scheme raises unprecedented agricultural, economic, legal, environmental, and ethical questions. So, the general public might assume that the regulatory agencies involved in approving such experimental uses of food crops are addressing these issues adequately. Unfortunately, that is not happening.
Credit: The Future Farmer
According to Claire Hope Cummings (farmer, attorney and journalist), “When it comes to GMOs in general, and transgenic pharmaceutical rice in particular, the regulatory field is muddy. Responsibility for field testing GMOs falls to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). APHIS’s job is to ensure that plant and animal diseases don’t proliferate. It does not look at the larger ecological impacts of newly created organisms. Basically, APHIS is concerned with protecting agricultural plants and animals from invasive pests and pathogens, including protecting crops from wildlife, not the other way around. To do its job, APHIS depends on applicants to volunteer information about the potential risks their products might pose. But once permitted field tests are completed, the products are “deregulated” and APHIS conducts no further monitoring or evaluation.
Cummings says, “GMO crops that involve pesticides come under the purview of the Environmental Protection Agency, but the two forms of rice currently proposed for commercialization in California are not pesticidal GMOs. The Food and Drug Administration regulates drugs, of course, but they ruled long ago that GMO foods were equivalent to conventional foods, so unless something like a food allergy might be involved, they are not concerned. Ventria Bioscience, a company founded by some long-time biotech veterans, is calling its rice a “medicinal food,” a term that is undefined. If their products are not used as drugs, they just might fall between cracks in the regulatory framework.”
That leaves the state regulatory process to deal with this problem. California rice is unique in that the state legislature created a quasi-public body (the California Rice Commission, or CRC) to handle certain regulatory, educational, and promotional matters. It’s a combination grower-processor-commodity-trade group. Recently the state charged it with reviewing proposals for transgenic rice and offering rulemaking recommendations to the state department of agriculture.
“In conventional corn, soy, and canola crops in the United States, such contamination is now rampant. In February the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) reported that more than two-thirds of these crops were contaminated with genetically engineered DNA. And contamination of the food supply by biopharmaceuticals is also now a fact, not just a fear,” charges Cummings.
If we eat foods with human genes is that cannibalism by proxy? It doesn’t sound appetizing to me.
Find out more about transgenic foods and pharmaceutical food here:http://www.worldwatch.org/node/547
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