Frankenstein foods: Rice With Human Genes


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Published on Tuesday, March 6th, 2007 by the DailyMail/UK
The Rice With Human Genes
by Sean Poulter

The first GM food crop containing human genes is set to be approved for 
commercial production.

The laboratory-created rice produces some of the human proteins found in breast 
milk and saliva.

Its U.S. developers say they could be used to treat children with diarrhoea, a 
major killer in the Third World.

The rice is a major step in so-called Frankenstein Foods, the first mingling of 
human-origin genes and those from plants. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture
has already signalled it plans to allow commercial cultivation.

The rice's producers, California-based Ventria Bioscience, have been given 
preliminary approval to grow it on more than 3,000 acres in Kansas. The company 
plans to harvest the proteins and use them in drinks, desserts, yoghurts and 
muesli bars.

The news provoked horror among GM critics and consumer groups on both sides of 
the Atlantic.

GeneWatch UK, which monitors new GM foods, described it as "very disturbing". 
Researcher Becky Price warned: "There are huge, huge health risks and people 
should rightly be concerned about this."

Friends of the Earth campaigner Clare Oxborrow said: "Using food crops and 
fields as glorified drug factories is a very worrying development.

"If these pharmaceutical crops end up on consumers' plates, the consequences for
our health could be devastating.

"The biotech industry has already failed to prevent experimental GM rice 
contaminating the food chain.

"The Government must urge the U.S. to ban the production of drugs in food crops.
It must also introduce tough measures to prevent illegal GM crops contaminating 
our food and ensure that biotech companies are liable for any damage their 
products cause."

In the U.S., the Union of Concerned Scientists, a policy advocacy group, warned:
"It is unwise to produce drugs in plants outdoors.

"There would be little control over the doses people might get exposed to, and 
some might be allergic to the proteins."

The American Consumers Union and the Washingtonbased Centre for Food Safety also
oppose Ventria's plans.

As well as the contamination fears there are serious ethical concerns about such
a fundamental interference with the building blocks of life.

Yet there is no legal means for Britain and Europe to ban such products on 
ethical grounds.

Imports would have to be accepted once they had gone through a scientific safety

The development is what may people feared when, ten years ago, food scientists 
showed what was possible by inserting copies of fish genes from the flounder 
into tomatoes, to help them withstand frost.

Ventria has produced three varieties of the rice, each with a different 
human-origin gene that makes the plants produce one of three human proteins.

Two - lactoferrin and lysozyme - are bacteria-fighting compounds found in breast
milk and saliva. The genes, cultivated and copied in a laboratory to produce a 
synthetic version, are carried into embryonic rice plants inside bacteria.

Until now, plants with human-origin genes have been restricted to small test 

Ventria originally planned to grow the rice in southern Missouri but the brewer 
Anheuser-Busch, a huge buyer of rice, threatened to boycott the state amid 
concern over contamination and consumer reaction.

Now the USDA, saying the rice poses "virtually no risk". has given preliminary 
approval for it to be grown in Kansas, which has no commercial rice farms.

Ventria will also use dedicated equipment, storage and processing facilities 
supposed to prevent seeds from mixing with other crops.

The company says food products using the rice proteins could help save many of 
the two million children a year who die from diarrhoea and the resulting 
dehydration and complications. A recent study in Peru, sponsored by Ventria, 
showed that children with severe diarrhoea recovered a day and a half faster if 
the salty fluids they were prescribed included the proteins.

The rice could also be a huge money-spinner in the Western world, with parents 
being told it will help their children get over unpleasant stomach bugs more 

Ventria chief executive Scott Deeter said last night: "We have a product here 
that can help children get better faster."

He said any concerns about safety and contamination were "based on perception, 
not reality" given all the precautions the company was taking.

Mr Deeter said production in plants was far cheaper than other methods, which 
should help make the therapy affordable in the developing world.

He said: "Plants are phenomenal factories. Our raw materials are the sun, soil 
and water."

©2007 Associated Newspapers Ltd


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