Tuesday, November 05, 2002

It seems some people are less confident in the efficacy of our allegedly crippling regulatory environment to ensure the safety of the food supply than they normally let on.
Bio-pharming is widely seen as the next wave for the crop-biotechnology sector, which so far has focused on making crops easier to grow. Industry officials hope this nascent field, which exploits the ability of plants to make medically important proteins at far less expense than fermentation factories, will grow into a multibillion-dollar business by the end of the decade.

But 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. The food industry, which has been generally supportive of crop biotechnology thus far, might try to enlist consumers in its drive to take food crops out of the hands of bio-pharming businesses.

"If need be, we could even go to the public," said Rhona Applebaum, executive vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the National Food Processors Association in Washington, D.C. Most food executives have long supported the push by biotech companies into agriculture, anticipating the creation of crops that would taste better, stay fresh longer and no longer trigger allergic reactions in consumers.

But they don't want their favorite crops genetically modified for anybody else. Many food executives are afraid that vaccines, enzymes, antibodies and hormones might accidentally end up in their products, which would trigger expensive recalls. They are worried that handling mishaps might occur and that pollen from plants designed for pharmaceutical purposes might drift far enough on the wind to impregnate related crops intended for food.

[Article by Scott Kilman in today's WSJ].


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