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New evidence of contamination brings threats

Fields of gold ?- New evidence of contamination brings threat of drug laden food.

GE Free New Zealand warn 'pharm' crops could be grown here next year.

US Biotech company Prodigene are refusing to say what genes were in the corn that contaminated 500,000 bushels of soy pulled from the market by the US Food and Drugs Administration this week.

It is known that Prodigene created GE maize containing a protein, SIV gp120, which is found in the monkey form of HIV, a resulting product due to be trialled in Thailand. They also reportedly last year grew field trials of hepatitis B corn, after adding a virus gene to the crop. The plot was later to be planted with soy, 'to make sure that stray pollen does not move to new corn plants.'

ProdiGene, a company involved in experiments with drug and chemical-producing plants using the prolific pollinator corn, projected that 10% of the corn crop will be devoted to biopharm production by 2010.

Last year Donna Delaney, a plant geneticist, supervised Hepatitis B trial planting, attempting to "Make sure that people know we're doing our best to keep this stuff out of their food," whilst Anthony Laos, ProdiGene's CEO, hope to do away with any regulations and was reported as writing to farmers in 2001 that: "We will be dealing with these distances until we can gain regulatory approval to lessen or abandon these requirements altogether."

Companies apparently propose extracting drugs or chemicals from plants, then selling the remainder. Incomplete extraction would mean drugs or chemicals in food or animal feed.

"Just one mistake by a biotech company and we'll be eating other people's prescription drugs in our corn flakes," Larry Bohlen, Friends of the Earth said recently; whilst Phil Regal, University of Minnesota biologist, who gave evidence at the New Zealand Royal Commission, stated, "Promises were made about containment and segregation, and they weren't kept."

The new crops, planted in over 300 field trials at secret locations nationwide in the US, include plants that produce an abortion-inducing chemical, growth hormones, a blood clotter, and trypsin, an allergenic enzyme as well as contraceptive corn. ProdiGene scientists also produce avidin in corn , originally from chickens eggs, the avidin gene has been transferred into corn. Avidin is used to track what is going on in chemical reactions.

GE Free New Zealand representative Susie Lees is warning that New Zealand could be targeted by GE companies for this type of experimentation if the moratorium is lifted next October. "The irony is that due to our clean green environment New Zealand would be an ideal place for them to pick off for more of their experiments." said Susie. " This is further evidence to extend the moratorium until they get their act together."

At present New Zealand CRIs and other experiments are focused on producing drugs in experiments involving human genes in farm animals, sheep and cows. News today indicated at least a quarter of the calves and lambs cloned from adult animals by Government-owned AgResearch have died within about their first three months of life.

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