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ProdiGene agrees to scrutinize crops

(Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2002 -- CropChoice news) --

Emily Gersema, Associated Press, 11/19/2002: The biotechnology company at the center of a government investigation has agreed to increased scrutiny of its bioengineered plants intended for pharmaceutical trials, the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.

FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester Crawford said the agreement with ProdiGene was made as part of the agency's investigation into contaminated soybeans.

ProdiGene, based in College Station, Texas, may have broken laws because it failed to completely remove pharmaceutical corn from fields in Iowa and Nebraska before planting soybeans. Stray corn plants sprouted in the fields.

The Agriculture Department ordered the company in September to burn the corn in Iowa.

Last week, the FDA ordered ProdiGene to destroy the soybeans contaminated in Nebraska, but the company has agreed to buy them. For now, the 500,000 bushels are being held at a Nebraska warehouse.

The Agriculture Department, which also is investigating the company, controls bioengineered plants in the field. Once a bioengineered plant developed for medical purposes is harvested so it can be sent to the laboratory for scientific study and eventually into clinical trials oversight becomes FDA's responsibility, Crawford explained.

"We will track it aggressively, and more so than we would have in the past," he said of the new agreement with ProdiGene.

The Agriculture Department and ProdiGene officials have been discussing potential penalties. The company may be fined $500,000 or up to twice the value of the Nebraska soybeans, which were worth $2.7 million.

Anthony G. Laos, president and CEO of ProdiGene, said his company is close to a settlement.

Laos has said the company is considering growing plants that contain pharmaceuticals in isolated places where they would not affect food crops.