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Report Warns of 'Pharm Crop' Threat to Food Supply

December 20, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 51

The food supply is vulnerable to contamination from crops genetically engineered to produce drugs and industrial chemicals, according to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The report, prepared by six agricultural experts, says USDA oversight of so-called pharm crops needs to be much stronger. The experts examined the current system for growing food- and field-grade corn and soybeans and identified many points where drugs and plastics could get into the food supply if pharm crops are grown under the same system. Only nonfood crops or crops grown in greenhouses should be used to produce pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals, UCS says. UCS is now calling on USDA to ban immediately the field production of corn and soybeans engineered to produce industrial chemicals and drugs. "It is sobering that drugs and industrial chemicals could have so many routes to the food supply," says David A. Andow, editor of the UCS report and a professor of entomology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Although hundreds of small-scale field trials have been conducted, no drugs produced by genetically modified crops have been approved, so pharm crops have not been grown on a large scale.


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