Pharma crops in Kent / Keep pharmaceuticals out of French Cheese (4/7/2006)

1.Pharma crops in Kent
2.ACTION ALERT: Keep pharmaceuticals out of French Cheese

1.How a tobacco farm in Kent could provide a life-saving drug for millions
Ian Sample, science correspondent
The Guardian, July 4, 2006

*Genetic tweak allows HIV drug to be harvested
*Environmentalists fear cross-contamination

In the perfectly controlled atmosphere of a brick-proof, hermetically sealed greenhouse deep in the Kent countryside, a fresh crop of tobacco plants is beginning to flourish.

There is nothing unusual about the plants' appearance, but they are nonetheless extraordinary. A genetic tweak ensures that every cell of every plant churns out tiny quantities of an experimental drug. When harvested, they could bring cheap medicine to millions.

Scientists say the GBP8m project could provide a powerful weapon against Africa's HIV pandemic.

The process is called pharming, and to many it is both the future of GM crops, and the future of the drugs industry. If the tobacco plants in Kent are a success, each one will provide 20 doses of an anti-HIV drug - enough to protect a woman from infection for up to three months.

Pharming is a marriage of high and low technology that capitalises on the advantages of both. Instead of needing a $500m drug manufacturing facility that takes five years to pass regulatory approval, pharming uses simple crop-growing practices that have been honed over centuries.

Like other GM technologies, pharming is not without its risks. Pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth fear that if food crops such as maize or tomatoes are adopted to grow drugs in some regions, there is a risk of their contaminating maize or tomato crops elsewhere that are intended for consumption. Clare Oxborrow, FoE's GM campaigner, said: "We wouldn't want to see this done in food crops and certainly not in field trials."

Professor Julian Ma, who leads the tobacco plant project at the Centre for Infection at St George's hospital in south London, acknowledges that the plants, and more importantly their pollen, have to be well contained. It is why the plants are being grown in GBP35,000 high-security Unigro greenhouses which normally house experiments on plant viruses. Designed to withstand a lobbed brick, the greenhouses are twin-skinned plastic. Rupture either skin and the entire greenhouse is immediately flooded with formaldehyde, keeping everything inside.

At his labs at St George's, Prof Ma and his PhD student Amy Sexton have been producing the genetically modified tobacco plants and perfecting techniques to boost the amount of drug each plant makes. They take a common tobacco plant, Nicotiana tabacum, and punch small holes from the leaves. The circles of leaf are placed in a petri dish and then squirted with a liquid containing a genetically modified bacterium.

When the bacterium infects a plant leaf, it inserts some of its own genes into the plant's DNA, in effect hijacking its cellular machinery, and fooling the plant to produce new proteins.

In the wild these proteins cause tumours that kill the plant. But in the laboratory, the bacterium is made safe and doctored with different genes that fool the plant into making cyanovirin-N.

The researchers believe that cyanovirin-N could become a powerful new weapon in the fight against HIV, as it prevents the virus from infecting human cells. They are keen to make a microbicide cream for women in Africa and other developing countries where many have little or no control over their partner's use of a condom. The evidence so far is that a microbicide cream could dramatically cut down the spread of HIV through sexual activity. Experiments with rhesus macaques, which have similar reproductive physiology, have shown the microbicide protected 15 out of 18 monkeys from infection with a variant of the HIV virus, while all of eight control animals were infected.

To produce enough cyanovirin to make any significant impact on the HIV pandemic will take a lot of plants. The team calculates that 5,000kg of cyanovirin would be needed for 10 million women to have two doses a week - a scale of production that is far beyond the capabilities of conventional drug manufacturing. Each plant grows to a final weight of around 1kg.

Already the team is working on ways to maximise the amount of drug it can extract from a plant. Instead of growing the plants in soil, Prof Ma is experimenting with hydroponics, where the plants are grown in a nutrient-rich liquid. "The beauty of this is that the roots of the plant can be made to secrete the cyanovirin-N into the water they are grown in. That's a much simpler and cheaper way to extract the drug than having to grind the plants up," he says. "You can think of it as molecular milking."

If the plants continue to grow well in Kent - at the home of the East Malling Research facility - Prof Ma hopes to have enough drug to conduct human clinical trials of the microbicide within three years.

"After the GM food debate, everyone was wondering, is this technology going to fly? We have here a potentially important intervention against HIV, but one that needs enormous production capacity if it's going to make an impact globally on health. GM plants could provide the solution," says Prof Ma.

FAQ: Pharming HIV treatments

How many people have HIV?

Globally, 40m people are believed to be infected with HIV, 25m of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 40,000 people in the UK are receiving treatment for HIV. However, it is estimated a further 20,000 are infected but do not know it.

What treatments are there?

In developed countries, expensive cocktails of drugs are used to stop HIV becoming Aids. The treatment is scarce in countries most in need of it.Condoms are the most effective barriers to sexually transmitted HIV, but in many countries, women may not be able to insist on their use.

So far, none of the 90 or so experimental vaccines against HIV have proved successful, but there are high hopes for microbicide creams, which women can apply before sex. Trials of anti-HIV creams are continuing in South Africa and Uganda.

How does cyanovirin-N work?

To infect a human immune cell, the HIV virus has to latch on to the cell in a specific way. A protein on the HIV virus surface locks on to what is called the CD4 receptor on the immune cell, and from there, the virus can infect the cell. Cyanovirin works by latching on to the HIV virus, making it unable to stick to human cells.

What are the risks of pharming?

Tight controls are needed to ensure that GM crops do not contaminate natural plants. Growing in airtight greenhouses prevents pollen escaping, but an alternative is to grow GM crops that have no relatives they can pollinate. Scientists are also working on infertile GM crops that do not flower.

2.ACTION ALERT: Keep pharmaceuticals out of French Cheese


The French Government has just approved 17 new GM test sites - including maize and tobacco genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals. These would be grown outdoors at secret locations and could result in unidentified pharmaceuticals in food, feed and the produce of animals eating feed - that then gets sold throught Europe. International protests could stop these trials. Here's how.....

1. Model letter to UK Supermarkets and Cheese Importers
2. People and organisations to lobby...
3. GM Freeze press release about the trials

(it would be best to adapt this or to put it's message into your own words.

Trade representatives of the French Government listed below are also worth contacting):

Dear Sirs,


I am very concerned about the possible contamination of your company's selection of French cheeses with GM products if field trials go ahead in France of GM biopharmaceutical maize. The pharmaceuticals from these secret trials crops could get into cheeses via the feed of cows as a result of cross pollination of a crop with one destined for animal feed.

If the trial proceeds as planned, I will seriously consider stopping purchasing French cheese from you store.

If such contamination occurs resulting in widespread product withdrawal there is currently no legislation to compensate you for loss of sales. I therefore urge you to communicate your concern about these irresponsible crop trials to the French Embassy, Chamber of Commerce and dairy industry.

There are a number of reasons why I believe such trials are irresponsible:

1. Biopharmaceutical crops pose completely new health threats because they create their own pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines - and, like earlier kinds of GM crops they have not undergone long-term safety testing required by the pharmaceutical approvals process..

2. These crops are being tested irresponsibly outdoors, rather than in greenhouses, increasing the risk that they will contaminate food and feed crops.

3. The pharmaceuticals are being produced in a food crop (maize) instead of non-food crops, which means that they can cross pollinate with and contaminate food crops of the same species.

4. They are being grown in secret location, which means that neighbouring farmers do not know whether they are at risk of cross pollination.

5. In the EU there are, as yet, no liability, co-existence, or compensation laws in place to protect conventional or organic farmers or the food industry.

6. There are currently no tests to identify foods contaminated with biopharmaceuticals and the Port Health Authorities are taking very little action to prevent GM contaminated produce from getting in to the UK.

In short, these biopharmaceutical trials are a potential health threat to your customers and a financial threat to you and your suppliers. I urge you to join the objections from across the EU to the French government and request that they terminate the trails pending a full debate on whether such crops are sustainable, the use of food crops for biopharmaceutical production and on secrecy about the locations of GM trial sites.

Yours sincerely,


People and organisations to lobby...


[Visit their website to email via the links below]

T: 0500 100 055
Customer Relations, Asda House, Southbank, Great Wilson Street, Leeds LS11 5AD
E: via

T: 01772 251 701
Buying director, 4 Fishergate, Preston PR1 3LJ
E: via

T: 0800 317 827
Customer Relations, The Co-operative Group, FREEPOST MR 9473, Manchester M4 8BA
[email protected]

Iceland Foods
T: 01244 842 842
Iceland Foods plc, Second Avenue,
Deeside Industrial Estate, Flintshire CH5 2NW
E: via

Marks & Spencer
T: 0845 302 1234
Marks & Spencer Retail Customer Service, Chester Business Park, Kings Meadow, Wrexham Road, Chester CH4 9GA
[email protected]

T: 01274 356 000
Customer Services Department,
Parry Lane,
Bradford BD4 8TD

See details for Morrisons

T: 0800 636 262
Sainsbury's Supermarkets Ltd, 33 Holborn, London EC1N 2HT Email via

T: 0117 935 6669
Customer Services, Somerfield Stores Ltd, Somerfield House, Whitchurch Lane, Bristol BS14 OTJ
[email protected]

T: 0800 505555
Customer Services, Tesco, PO Box 73,
Baird Avenue, Dundee DD1 9NF
[email protected]

T: 0800 188 884
Customer Services, Waitrose Ltd,
Doncastle Road, Southern Industrial Estate, Bracknell, Berkshire RG12 8YA
[email protected]

Franco-British Chamber of Commerce & Industry 31, rue Boissy d'Anglas
75008 Paris
Tel : (33) 1 53 30 81 30
Fax : (33) 1 53 30 81 35
email them via the form at:


MISSION ECONOMIQUE is the economic and commercial section of the French Embassy. The staff in their agriculture and food section are:
[email protected]
Chargée de mission agricole
Fruits et légumes frais et transformés, horticulture et produits issus de
l'agriculture biologique
+44 (0)20 73 16 41 63
[email protected]
Chef de secteur
Attaché agricole adjointe en charge des questions vétérinaires
+44 (0)20 73 16 41 52
[email protected]
Chef de secteur
Biens de consommation, distribution, santé
+44 (0)20 73 16 41 64
[email protected]
Chargé de mission agricole
Chef de la mission agricole d'Ubifrance / Vins & Spiritueux - Autres boissons - Distribution.
+44 (0)20 73 16 41 62
Michelle BONNET
[email protected]
Assistante sectorielle
Assistante de l'attaché agricole, veille régalienne
+44 (0)20 73 16 41 51
Joelle COX
[email protected]
Assistante sectorielle
Bois, matière première et transformation, BTP
+44 (0)20 73 16 41 47
[email protected]
Assistante sectorielle
Viandes, Charcuteries et Alimentation animale, Oeufs, Produits laitiers, Grande distribution alimentaire
+44 (0)20 73 16 41 53
Pandora MISTRY
[email protected]
Assistante sectorielle
+44 (0)20 73 16 41 61
[email protected]
Assistante sectorielle
Produits alimentaires transformés (Epicerie Sèche, Spécialités alimentaires diverses, plats préparés) Filière pêche et aquaculture
+44 (0)20 73 16 41 33

Freeze Condemns France for GM Pharming Test Sites

GM Freeze has condemned the French Government for licensing two sites for  crops genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals [1] ahead of  legislation to deal with crop contamination and liability.

Two out of 17 new GM test sites announced by the French Minister of  agriculture, Mr Dominique Bussereau, include maize [2] and tobacco [3]  genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals.

Pharmaceutical crops or "pharming" are second generation GM crops designed to produce drugs, vaccines and other medical products. They have already been grown experimentally in the USA where problems of contamination have already occurred.

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