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Biotech barley to be planted in Iowa
Agri News, June 2, 2004
A California company plans to plant biotech barley in Iowa for use in the pharmaceutical industry.

The grain is designed to make a product for boosting the immune system.

"It's a very productive region where we can effectively grow the crop," said Scott Deeter, chief executive of Ventria Bioscience of Sacramento, Calif.

There is virtually no commercial barley grown in Iowa, so there is little chance of contaminating a food crop, he said.

Corn has been the crop of choice for many biotech companies. But federal regulations imposed after contamination incidents in Iowa and Nebraska two years ago have made it difficult to find places in the Midwest to grow the crop.

Federal regulations require plots of pharmaceutical corn to be planted up to a mile away from other cornfields to prevent cross-pollination.

In 2002, Texas-based Prodigene Inc. created an uproar by accidentally mixing such crops with conventionally grown plants.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington D.C.-based consumer advocacy group, criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture for continuing to allow companies to use food crops for pharmaceutical products.

Over the past year, the USDA has received 16 applications for field trials of pharmaceutical and industrial products, according to a report released on Wednesday.

"It is impossible to know whether these biopharmed crops present any food-safety or environmental risk, since the whole process is shrouded in secrecy. Even the Food and Drug Administration is out of the loop," said Gregory Jaffe, director of CSPI's biotechnology project and the author of the report. "What 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."

Prodigene submitted four of the applications, all for corn. One of the plots is to be in Nebraska, the rest in Texas. Prodigene CEO John Reiher said the fields would be isolated by greater distances than the USDA requires.

Cindy Smith, who oversees crop regulation for USDA, said the department would soon announce several measures to increase public scrutiny of the industry.

The department will release its risk assessments of all the crops. It also is doing environmental studies of the largest Prodigene sites and will allow the public to comment on the results of the studies before the Prodigene permits are issued.
MGR Archive 3.6.2004
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