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Political maze burns into testing time for pharmaceutical crop

(Tuesday, June 24, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Rocky Mountain News, 06/19/03: Planting time is over, and there will be no test plot of pharmaceutical corn in northeast Colorado this year.

That's the decision Tuesday from the French drug maker Meristem Therapeutics, which had obtained federal and state permits to grow the genetically engineered crop.

"The two consultation processes have, however, delayed decision- making such that it is already too late in the season to plant corn," said Emmanuel Boures, the company's spokesman.

While praising the professionalism of Colorado, which required additional precautions to protect other crops from contamination, Boures said time ran out.

About 90 percent of the corn seed is in Colorado furrows by the third week of May, said Jim Miller, spokesman for the state's department of agriculture.

The longer the corn has to grow, the better the yield, he said.

The "bio-farm" corn produces a protein that treats digestive problems related to cystic fibrosis, at a fraction of the price for chemical production.

Fall freezes keep the growing season short, and corn requires 90 to 99 days to sprout, grow and ripen for harvest, he said.

"It's usually in by the first week in June, but that's pushing the envelope," Miller said.

The identity of the farmer near Holyoke who leased the 30 acres, plus the mile-wide buffer, was never disclosed.

There's no guarantee Meristem will plant there next year.

Boures said that Meristem, which is growing another plot of the drug-producing corn in France this year, will pursue the program in the United States next year.

However, he did not specify Colorado as the site.