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More research call on GM drug-making
Press Association, Dec 9 2003

More research and safeguards are needed if genetically modified crops are to be used to produce drugs, according to a new report.

GeneWatch UK says research, mainly in North America and France, was taking place to produce pharmaceutical drugs, vaccines and antibodies in plants. The first chemicals from GM plants are already being used in diagnostics and research in the USA.

The report - Non-Food GM Crops: New Dawn or False Hope? - reveals that the research is being driven by a desire to produce drugs more cheaply and with the hope that the GM plant could be eaten as a simple way to administer a drug or vaccine.

It is not clear whether such approaches will work, and using edible crops to produce GM drugs could be dangerous as they may be accidentally eaten by people or animals, according to the report.

Furthermore, there is little or no research being carried out on the possible environmental impacts of growing such crops. As a result of the findings, GeneWatch is calling for:

Drug-producing GM plants to be grown only in conditions where there is no possibility of contaminating other crops, and only non- food crops to be used. Research on environmental impacts to be undertaken as a matter of urgency.

A Government review on the use of GM crops for drug production, including their safety and likely efficacy in relation to other disease control methods. Its aim should be to produce clear standards by which the industry would be expected to operate.

Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch director and author of the report, said: "Eating GM crops as a way of taking a drug or vaccine may sound like a good idea, but it is unlikely to be effective as it will be difficult to control the dose.

"More disturbingly, people may mistake it for normal food and be poisoned. If we are going to use GM plants as drug factories, we should certainly rule out food crops or there could be some serious accidents. We also need to know what will happen to the environment if we produce these kinds of drugs in crops.

"No-one seems to be giving this any consideration at the moment."