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RMFU disappointed at CDA approval of biopharm permit

DENVER – Rocky Mountain Farmers Union expressed frustration at the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s (CDA) approval of an application to grow biopharmaceutical corn in Eastern Colorado this growing season.

On May 2 of this year, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, along with 40 other groups representing farmers, rural communities, consumer groups and environmentalists, submitted a letter to Governor Owens and CDA, requesting that a moratorium be placed on growing biopharmaceutical crops in Colorado until the potential impacts to human health and the environment are studied and the technology is proven safe in an open, public process. Neither the Governor’s office, nor CDA responded to the letter, nor to repeated requests to meet with the groups.

“Since we first heard that biopharmaceutical crops may be grown in Colorado, we have had concerns,” said John Stencel, president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “The regulatory framework at both the states and federal levels does not appear to require research on issues such as potential water and soil contamination, health impacts or other types of genetic pollution. We want to see that scientific studies have been done, rather than just rely on the industry to tell us that the technology is safe.” Once the United States Department of Agriculture approves a permit to grow a biopharmaceutical test crop, the application is sent to the Department of Agriculture in the state in which the crop is to be grown. Earlier this year, CDA stated that it was in the process of creating an application review process for approving biopharmaceutical crops, and that this review process would be open to public comment.

“It is disturbing that CDA would approve this permit application without first establishing some sort of review protocol,” said Stencel.

Today’s permit approval will allow Meristem Therapeutics, a French-based company, to grow 17 acres of genetically engineered corn in Phillips County, Colo. The corn is genetically altered to produce lipase, a digestive enzyme. A three-member panel of scientists, whom many believe are biased towards the industry, reviewed the permit for CDA.

This same panel will write the application review protocols for CDA. Many groups have asked that the panel be broadened to represent the concerns of farmers, consumer advocates, environmentalists, and ecologists, as well as representatives from other state agencies, such as the Department of Public Health and Environment or the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

“The bottom line is that we can’t support this technology until there is a process in place which requires that these concerns be studied,” said Stencel. “We are changing the rules of nature with this technology, and in return, we have to make sure that the rules that govern this technology will protect human health and the environment.”