Wednesday, March 7, 2007

This is Your Food on Drugs

The Washington Post published two interesting stories over the weekend concerning drug use and production in the food supply. In the first installment of "what the heck are they thinking?" FDA says it may soon approve a new drug for use in cattle, despite warnings against such approval by the American Medical Association, FDA's own scientists, and a myriad of health, consumer and food safety groups. The drug is part of a class of antibiotics that are very important to treating serious human illness, and scientists and health professionals warn that its introduction into the food supply would probably speed the emergence of microbes resistant to that important class of antibiotics, as has happened with other drugs. But FDA, in it's apparent unwavering adherence to the rules, claims it can't reject the drug on these concerns due to restrictive language in something called "Guidance #152." Anyone seen the movie Brazil? "Guidance #152?" It doesn't even have a dash or a stroke. It can't possibly be important enough to override the agency's clear directive to protect public health...wait. What's that clunking noise in the ceiling? (Update: Rick Weiss has a Q&A on the article in the WashPost HERE)

Meanwhile, the second Wash Post article has USDA backing the commercial production of a controversial variety of rice genetically engineered to produce pharmaceutical proteins. The rice, created by California-based Ventria BioScience, is set to be grown and processed in Kansas (where they don't grow rice commercially), after the company was chased out of other states, including Monsanto's stomping grounds, Missouri, and Ventria's home-state California. Ventria has developed three varieties of rice, each engineered with a different human gene to produce one of three human proteins. Two of them -- lactoferrin and lysozyme -- are bacteria-fighting compounds found in breast milk and saliva. The third makes serum albumin, a blood protein used in medical therapies.

Sounds yummy, doesn't it? But not to worry, USDA says everything will be fine. Never mind that unapproved GE "pharm" crops have contaminated conventional crops in the past; or that two strains of conventional rice have now been found to be contaminated with three different genetically engineered varieties; or that pesky StarLink corn incident. USDA's track record isn't exactly spotless, and was further tarnished by two recent court judgements that CFS won against the agency for not following environmental regulations on approving GE bentgrass and GE alfalfa, but I'm sure they'll do a better job this time. In case you are not convinced, USDA is accepting public comments on the plan until March 30th. You can submit comments online at, Docket No. APHIS-2007-0006.

No comments: