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Field Trials of Bioengineered Crops Resurge at USDA

June 7, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 23

The number of applications to the government for field trials of crops that have been bioengineered to produce drugs and industrial chemicals has increased greatly over the past year, says a report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit group. After the ProdiGene incident (C&EN, Nov. 25, 2002, page 6), when corn modified to produce a pig vaccine was accidentally mixed with soybeans, applications for field trials of these bioengineered crops dropped from about 25 annually to only four. In the past 12 months, USDA has received 16 applications and has approved seven to date. So far, little has been revealed about these field trials, CSPI says. Details about the number of acres, the location, and the chemicals produced have been kept secret, the report says. “It is impossible to know whether these biopharmed crops present any food safety or environmental risk, since the whole process is shrouded in secrecy,” says Gregory A. Jaffe, author of the report. USDA has said, however, that most applications are for outdoor field trials of less than 1 acre each involving corn, rice, barley, safflower, mustard, and tobacco and usually are for plants engineered with human genes to produce novel proteins. In response to the CSPI report, USDA announced that it will reveal more data about the trials on its website. The National Food Processors Association is opposed to the use of food crops for the production of drugs and industrial chemicals. The report is available at


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