Consuming (F)Ears of Corn: Public Health and Biopharming
53 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2004
One of the most controversial and exciting prospects of biotechnology is biopharming - a process in which plants are genetically engineered so that they endogenously produce specialty pharmaceutical or industrial proteins. The allure of these GMOs is clear - an environmentally sustainable, and inexpensive replacement for costly drugs and petrochemicals. That allure may be obscuring the dangers lurking below the surface. Because these genetically modified crops are not food and are not intended for human consumption, there are jarring points of tension, if not outright contradiction, between widespread planting of biopharm crops and the ongoing expectation of a safe and secure food supply. This article raises a few of the more pressing public health questions that should be resolved before any more of the nation's crop lands are diverted from food production to biopharming. Part I provides an introduction to biopharming and outlines the various plans and projections for its commercial exploitation. Part II examines the existing regulatory structure, highlights some of its most critical weaknesses, and points out the serious risks this structure creates vis-a-vis the integrity of the food supply. Part III articulates the central conclusion that safe and successful exploitation of these new technologies will demand a markedly different regulatory regime than the laissez-faire system that has prevailed in conventional agricultural policy. To that end, this section proposes some alternatives that would better safeguard public health while still permitting exploration of this exciting new technology.
Keywords: LMO, Food safety, ag-biotech, biopharming, biotechnology, agriculture, genetic modification, genetic engineering, GMO, pharmaceutical, bio-based, public health, transgenic
JEL Classification: K32, K23, N5
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation