Risky Open-Air
Pharmaceutical Spraying
On Crops
Posted by: Anonymous on Oct 31, 2002

Puerto Rico is permitting open-air field experiments with genetically modified (GM) plants unfit for human consumption, according to a recent report by Genetically Engineered (GE) Food Alert, a U.S.-based coalition of environmental and consumer groups.
Puerto Rico is permitting open-air field experiments with genetically modified (GM) plants unfit for human consumption, according to a recent report by Genetically Engineered (GE) Food Alert, a U.S.-based coalition of environmental and consumer groups.
The GM plants in question, commonly called "pharm crops," are produced by introducing mammalian genes into plants like corn, soya, rice and tobacco. They secrete industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals in their tissues and are not edible.
The tests are part of an ongoing attempt to "grow" drugs, with the hope that the process will be cheaper than manufacturing.
The chemicals these plants produce include vaccines, growth hormones, clotting agents, industrial enzymes, human antibodies, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
The report, titled "Manufacturing Drugs and Chemicals in Crops," says that Puerto Rico is one of four main centers in the United States for these tests. The other three are Nebraska, Wisconsin and Hawaii.
According to GE Food Alert, the Department of Agriculture has approved over 300 pharm crop field tests since 1991 in secrecy and with no public debate.
These plants are by no means the only experimental GM crops grown in Puerto Rico. This Caribbean island has been host to 2,296 USDA-approved GM open-air field tests since January 2001 according to Raising Risk,- a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and GE Food Alert.
This makes Puerto Rico host to more GM food experiments per square mile than any U.S. state except Hawaii.
Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, not a state. Its residents are U.S. citizens but have no voice or vote in the U.S. Congress or in the United Nations.
Environmental activists, consumer advocates and organic farmers warn that GM crops are risky, but that the risks of pharm crops are bigger.
"Just one mistake by a biotech company and we'll be eating other people's prescription drugs in our corn flakes," warned Larry Bohlen, director of health and environment programs at Friends of the Earth, in a press release.
"How will crops that are engineered to produce industrial chemicals or drugs affect soil micro-organisms or beneficial insects?" asks the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, a Canada-based think-tank.
"Will pharmaceutical proteins be altered in unforeseen ways? Could they cause allergies? What if biopharmaceutical crops end up in animal feeds?"
Fears of unapproved GM products accidentally entering the human food supply are not unfounded. In late 2000, traces of Starlink, a variety of GM corn not approved for human consumption, were found in supermarket products in the United States.
No less than 143 million tons of corn were contaminated with Starlink, according to its creator, the Europe-based Aventis corporation. Seed companies, farmers, processors and food makers spent over a billion dollars and six months trying to get rid of this unwanted GM corn.
Critics also point out that GM crops can pollinate wild relatives and non-GM fields, with unforeseeable consequences. The presence of GM corn has already been documented in rural communities in Mexico, even though genetically modified crops are prohibited there.
When asked about genetic engineering in agriculture, Puerto Rico agriculture secretary Luis Rivero-Cubano said that the only such crops in the Caribbean island are experimental.
But Puerto Rico Farmers Association president Ramon Gonzalez has revealed that he plants GM crops in his farm in the town of Salinas. He said that genetically modified crops in Puerto Rico are commercial and include a herbicide-resistant soya plant made by Monsanto and a variety of corn that produces its own bio- pesticide, known as Bt corn.
The soya in question, known as Roundup-ready, can resist repeated applications of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.
According to Gonzalez, the harvested GM crops planted here are sold as seed to be planted elsewhere. "Puerto Rico is the preferred place to make seed because our weather permits us to have up to four harvests a year."
A phone call to the local offices of the Department of Agriculture proved fruitless, as none of the employees seemed to know anything about genetically engineered crops.
The local office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was no more helpful. A spokesman, Jose Font, stated that agriculture does not concern the EPA unless toxic pesticides are involved.
Local regulatory agencies seem to be unaware of the issue. A spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board told IPS that since Puerto Rico has no laws or regulations for GM crops, it has no mandate to investigate.
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