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Brave new food: biotech vaccines in our corn and greens: Debi Athos questions the logic of feeding pharmaceutical fruits and vegetables to the masses.

Anyone for a hepatitis B banana nr some cholera Aalfalfa sprouts? Biotech corporations have expanded on their scientific experiments with our fund by creating edible vaccines and pharmaceutical crops, Over 400 genetically altered "functional foods" are in development by twenty biotech corporations from around the world. These scored generation biotech crops are the biotech industry's hope for public acceptance of biotech foods by offering more consumer benefits, such as edible vaccinations and low cost medicinal drugs.

A large variety of fruits and vegetables are now being turned into pharmaceutical factories, producing these genetically altered biotech vaccines and drugs. Edible vaccines for diseases like hepatitis B are being grown and tested in bananas, tomatoes, and lettuce. Researchers at the University of Maryland are testing potatoes to produce a vaccine for Norwalk Virus, which causes a deadly stomach disorder. Other plant-derived vaccines that have been developed are human cytomegalovirus, rabies virus, rotavirus, enterotoxigenic E.coli, Vibrio Cholerae and respiratory syncytuak virus F. Edible vaccines are seen as a convenient and economical way to get people immunized. One major challenge in the development of edible biotech vaccines is dosage. It's been difficult to determine the correct amount of the vaccine producing fruit or vegetable to eat and controlling the amount of vaccine produced in crops that grow to different sizes. And, of course, getting children to eat vaccine-producing foods. Charles Arntzen, founding director of Arizona Biomedical Institute in Tempe working on edible vaccines admits, "A baby may eat a bite and not want anymore, may spit up half of it, or eat it all and throw it up later."

Other food crops are being used to grow pharmaceutical drugs for diseases from diabetes to heart disease. Common genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops include corn, rice, wheat, and barley A French biotech corporation has contracted with a cooperative of 76 Iowa farmers to grow pharmaceutical corn. Several thousand acres will be needed to grow genetically engineered pharmaceutical corn for a drug to treat cystic fibrosis. Dow AgroSciences will also be genetically engineering corn to grow drugs for cancer, cardiovascular diseases its well as infections and autoimmune diseases.

Many of these new pharmaceutical crops are being tested in secret open-air field trials. Greenpeace activists discovered an open-air field trial of rice genetically engineered with human genes in Surfer County, California. The rice has been genetically engineered to produce the human proteins lactoferrin and lysozyme for use in drugs. This pharmcrop is the creation of Applied Phytologics (AP), a biotech corporation that according to Greenpeace has about a dozen other pharmcrops being field tested in the same area and in Hawaii. For anyone familiar with the story of StarLink, a genetically engineered corn not approved for human consumption, open-air field tests are a great concern. StarLink contaminated natural and organic corn crops through cross pollination in the foods. StarLink corn was also mixed in with corn for human food and ended up in tacos and over 300 other corn products on our grocery store shelves resulting in mass recalls and billions of dollars in suits for Aventis, the owner of StarLink corn.

Kimberly Wilson from Greenpeace says that the USDA has virtually no requirements specifically established for pharmaceutical crops. And with few regulations set up to protect public health, wildlife, and the environment from open-air field testing of pharmaceutical crops, it seems we have once again become, without our knowledge or consent, a part of a large scale and potentially dangerous scientific experiment.

The questions fur the second generation of biotech food/crops are similar to the first. What if hepatitis B vaccine bananas (like the StarLink corn story) cross-pollinate or get mixed in with natural bananas? What if a baby eats too much of a vaccine banana? What if people who opt not to use some or all vaccines or who do not need the vaccine eat genetically engineered vaccine fruits or vegetables? How do we control possible changes in these vaccines and drugs its they are produced in the host crop? How can we possibly control what happens with these genetically engineered drugs out in nature? How can we control human nature on such a scale to assure a 100% safety system? Imagine consumers getting corn tacos that contain drugs for cystic fibrosis!

We don't know how these pharmcrops will affect wildlife and the environment. These are serious drugs and diseases we are exposing out in the open and turning over to nature to deal with. Alex Jack, founder of Amberwaves, a national network working to preserve natural and organic rice says that there are about 200 species of animals that live in California's rice fields. "Millions of migrating ducks visit the Sacramento Valley every, winter and eat rice seeds remaining from the autumn harvest."

A common conclusion for both the first and second generation of genetically engineered food crops is that biotech corporations are using nature to grow unbelievable amounts of money. And that is why our own local business and educational leaders like Jack Cecil, President of Biltmore Farms and James Mullen, Jr., Chancellor at UNC Asheville, are on a steering committee to "strengthen biotechnology in Western North Carolina." This group plans to improve our economy by using our diverse plant life to lure biotech corporations to move their experiments (and biotech bucks) into Western North Carolina. Anyone for pharmaceutical ramps?


* Contact your Congressman and urge them to support a moratorium on the commercialization of pharmcrops. Contact and

* Contact Jack Cecil and tell him you do not want WNC to be the next biotech lab: 828-209-2000,

* For more information on GE pharmcrops and plans to turn WNC into the next biotech lab, go to


Eat Up Your Vaccines, Seedling Newsletter

Genetically Engineered Pharmcrops, Union of Concerned Scientists

Pharm Crops ~ A Food Accident Waiting to Happen, Greenpeace

California Biotech Companies Grow Plants with Human Proteins, Agbios

Crop Producing Human Protein Found Growing in Open Field Test, Kim Wilson, Greenpeace activist

How Safe are Genetically Engineered Vaccines? Helen Lawler, M.A.

Amberwaves Calls for a Moratorium on Genetically Engineered Pharmaceutical Rice in California, Press Release, Amberwaves

Growing Pharmaceuticals in Plants, Dow AgroSciences

Debi Athos the director of Pure Food Partners, a non-profit group working to educate the public about the genetic engineering of our food. Contact her at
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Title Annotation:Commentary
Author:Athos, Debi
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Aug 1, 2002
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