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More illegal rice found in China; other news

(Friday, June 17, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. Pharm corn returns to Iowa
2. Illegal Rice Found Again in China's Food Supply
3. Growers oppose drugs made of flax

1. Pharm corn returns to Iowa

Des Moines Register
June 11, 2005

Washington, D.C. - Pharmaceutical corn is returning to Iowa for the first time in three years.

State officials on Friday approved plans by Iowa State University scientists to conduct a field trial on land belonging to the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant near Middletown, Ia.

Robin Pruisner, state entomologist for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, said there would be multiple layers of planting restrictions and security designed to prevent any chance of contaminating conventional corn.

"We want to do as good a job as possible in making sure everything goes right, that everything is done with the utmost care and concern," she said.

The trial could help revive dreams of Gov. Tom Vilsack and agricultural interests in the state to develop an industry producing crops for high-value pharmaceutical and industrial uses.

The fenced Army base, which covers 19,000 acres, is seen as a potential site for long-term production of the crops.

Field tests of the crops were halted after a biotech company, ProdiGene Inc., was caught mismanaging pharmaceutical corn plots in Iowa and Nebraska three years ago.

The U.S. Agriculture Department, under pressure from the food industry, tightened planting restrictions, making it more difficult to find places where the biotech corn could be grown.

The new field trial will consist of two small plots, each about one-tenth of an acre in size, located in a woody area of the Army base. The plots will be planted next week.

The nearest cornfield is about 1.2 miles away and was planted about two months ago, said Bill Horan of Rockwell City, who will manage the trial.

The USDA preliminarily approved plans for the Iowa trial in May, but the state asked for additional measures, including 24-hour surveillance of the site. The site also insisted that the plants be pollinated and harvested by hand.

"We in the state believe it's important to go above and beyond the minimum requirement to ensure that the rest of the corn in Iowa is produced in a manner that is not jeopardized," Pruisner said.

She said USDA officials agreed to the additional rules.

The crop will not pollinate until late August or early September, long after any other corn in the state, said Horan, who specializes in growing biotech crops.

The biotech corn is being developed to make a medication to prevent diarrhea in pigs, and possibly in humans. This year's crop is to be used for feeding trials in pigs.

The crop was grown in Colorado last year.

The Army site, because of its security and isolation, will allow for greater control of the crops, said Lisa Lorenzen, director of industry relations and biotechnology liaison at Iowa State.

2. Illegal Rice Found Again in China's Food Supply

By DAVID BARBOZA, NY Times, June 14, 2005

SHANGHAI, June 13 - Genetically altered rice, which is not approved for human consumption anywhere in the world, has been found again in China's food supply, this time in one of the country's biggest cities, the environmental group Greenpeace said on Monday.

Researchers for Greenpeace say bags of rice purchased in the southern city of Guangzhou were tested by an independent laboratory and found to contain genetically altered rice, which is illegal to sell on the open market in China.

The findings suggest that China may have inadvertently become the first country where people are consuming genetically modified rice, even though safety testing has not yet been completed.

Scientists around the world continue to debate the use of genetically altered crops, but there has been little or no evidence that genetically altered crops are harmful to human health.

Two months ago, China's Ministry of Agriculture said it would investigate claims by Greenpeace that genetically altered rice was being illegally planted and sold in Hubei Province in central China. The findings have not yet been released.

Now, Greenpeace asserts that rice that has been genetically altered to resist pests has spread from experimental plots in Hubei to wholesale rice markets in Guangzhou, which is about 90 miles north of Hong Kong.

"This illegal and unapproved rice has spread out of Hubei Province and it is reaching other parts of the country," said Sze Pang Cheung, a Greenpeace researcher in Beijing.

Mr. Sze said Greenpeace bought the rice from a Guangzhou wholesaler, who buys from Hubei and then resells about 60 tons of rice a day, much of it to Guangzhou restaurants. Last April, Greenpeace said a group of "rogue scientists" in Hubei had allowed altered rice to illegally seep into a corner of the market by selling it to regular farmers.In the United States, the planting of genetically altered corn and soybeans is widespread. But since the late 1990's, European and American regulators have slowed the approval process over health and safety concerns, as well as consumer fears.

3. Growers oppose drugs made of flax

Associated Press

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - A North Dakota flax marketing group is opposing a plant-based pharmaceutical company planned here, citing potential contamination of traditional flax fields by genetically modified crops.

"Are we going to risk our new and emerging markets for the flax on something that hasn't even been licensed yet?" said Ernie Hoffert, a Carrington farmer and secretary-treasurer of AmeriFlax, a branch of the North Dakota Oilseed Council. "This is absurd."

Agragen, a company started by Cincinnati entrepreneur Sam Huttenbauer Jr., has leased space in the University of North Dakota technology park. The company plans to use North Dakota-grown flax in medicines such as albumin, which would be used in blood transfusions for trauma patients.

Huttenbauer said the market potential for plant-made pharmaceuticals would boost the flax industry in North Dakota, which grows more than 90 percent of the U.S. crop.

AmeriFlax said it worries about genetically engineered grain entering the food chain, a prospect it calls "unacceptable."

AmeriFlax last week met with about 30 people involved in the North Dakota flax industry, seeking help in drafting a statement that would strengthen its opposition to production of pharmaceuticals made from flax.

"I do not want to make this specific to Agragen," Hoffert said.

A statement from Huttenbauer that was handed out at the meeting pledged not to move ahead with transgenic flax in North Dakota until regulatory agencies and AmeriFlax agreed that all necessary safeguards had been met. Agragen also is seeking the full support of AmeriFlax, and help from the group and the state in finding development money.

No plant-made pharmaceuticals have been approved for the market by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the federal Agriculture Department. Last year, only about 45 acres of the crops were grown nationwide, under strict federal guidelines.