GM rice to be grown for medicine

A A A

GM crops specially engineered to produce drugs are to be grown commercially for the first time, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

An American biotech company plans to start growing medicines to treat diarrhoea in modified rice this spring. Its proposals were examined last week by regulatory authorities in California, but they have no power to stop the planting.

The rice will usher in a second generation of GM crops, which are bound to polarise opinion even more than those that have already caused controversy around the world. Unlike current crops they could offer real benefits to millions of people - but they also pose far greater health risks.

Top officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs believe that the danger is so great that the new crops should never be grown in Britain. But Downing Street has cautiously endorsed them.

The possibilities for growing drugs in plants - dubbed "pharming" - have been researched for years, with scientists developing a wide range of vaccines and other medicines in several common foods in the laboratory. But now Ventria Bioscience, based in Sacramento, is to break new ground by planting 130 acres with two new varieties of GM rice that will produce lactoferrin and lysozyme, infection-fighting chemicals that it will market for use in oral rehydration products to treat severe diarrhoea.

It says that this could generate enough lactoferrin to treat at least 650,000 sick children, and sufficient lysozyme for 6.5 million patients. It hopes to expand production to 1,000 acres within a few years.

The company will not disclose the site that it has earmarked for the new crops because it is worried that protesters will destroy them. But its plans have already caused alarm in California's rice-growing country. Organic farmers, in particular, fear that the GM rice will contaminate their crops; the company says that there is "no risk".

On Thursday the arguments were thrashed out before a meeting of the California Rice Commission, which is drawing up a protocol of conditions under which the rice can be grown. But Tim Johnson, the commission's president, told The Independent on Sunday that neither it nor the state's agriculture secretary, to whom it reports, has the power to stop the rice being cultivated.

He said that the commission was instead concentrating on working out precautions - such as the distance the GM rice must be from conventional crops - to try to minimise risks.

The chemicals in the rice are relatively mild - they are found in mother's milk - but they are likely to pave the way for a wide range of stronger ones. Scientists, for example, have developed vaccines to treat diseases ranging from measles to hepatitis B - and antibodies to treat cancer and dental caries, provide contraceptives and prevent genital herpes - in potatoes, maize, wheat, rice, alfalfa, carrots and tomatoes.

The company says that its plants "will become 'factories' that manufacture therapeutic proteins to combat life-threatening illnesses". It adds that "plants improved through the use of biotechnology" can produce them "for innovative treatments for diseases such as cancer, HIV, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, kidney disease, Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis and many others".

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'