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Iowa governor urges NZ farmers to grow pharmaceutical, other transgenic crops

(Thursday, March 25, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Simon Collins, NZ Herald: A man who might be the next Vice-President of the United States would like to see New Zealand growing genetically modified "pharma-crops" in the American off-season.

Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, one of a clutch of names being touted as a possible running mate for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, is in New Zealand leading a delegation of Iowa biotechnology businesses.

He said farmers in New Zealand, as in the Iowa corn belt, needed new high-value products to replace low-value agricultural commodities.

"As Brazil and South America and Africa and some of the other parts of the world get their agricultural act together, our farms are going to be at a serious disadvantage," he said.

"The only way we in the US and you in New Zealand are going to continue to have prosperity is to figure out something new to add value to the food we're producing.

"One way to do that is to have a value-added crop designed for a particular application, such as growing crops that are designed to convert to ethanol, or for medicines or nutriceuticals."

Two farmers in Mr Vilsack's 30-strong trade mission, brothers Joe and Bill Horan of the Iowa Co-operative, are already growing corn which has been genetically altered to produce an enzyme that helps cystic fibrosis patients to digest food.

Another company has manipulated corn to produce a protein that is normally expressed in human tears, and which can deal with the impact of dehydration and stop diarrhoea.

Mr Vilsack said the Iowa businesses wanted to understand New Zealand's regulations to see if it would be feasible to grow such crops here. "You could have a combination of New Zealand and Iowa and get a year-long growing season."

He accepted that farmers growing normal corn might be worried about contamination of their crops from nearby corn that had been engineered to produce medical proteins. He said one answer would be non-pollinating or self-pollinating crops.

Another Iowa company, Phytodyne, has developed techniques to "edit" the genetic structure of plants directly, without leaving traces of markers or other foreign DNA in the plants afterwards.

Mr Vilsack's mission is visiting New Zealand alone, and not Australia.

The trip was initiated by a Cedar Rapids business owner, Marcia Rogers, who lived in New Zealand for several years and saw parallels between the biologically based industries of this country and the US state of just under three million people.

Source: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/storydisplay.cfm?reportID=53009&storyID=3556815