Pharming Again on the Rise

The practice of splicing human genes into common crops to produce proteins for use in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals — known as biopharming, or pharming — is again on the rise among biotech companies, says a new report, under the cover of an approval process that is shrouded in secrecy. Pharming was dealt a serious blow in 2002 when biotech company ProdiGene accidentally mixed its phunky crops with conventionally grown plants in Nebraska, causing public outcry and calls for tighter regulation; the company was fined $500,000 by the USDA. However, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the USDA has denied only two pharming applications since 2000 — and there were 16 in the last year alone. (In fact, ProdiGene is back pharming in Nebraska.) The center’s report calls for a more transparent application and approval process, and the USDA has promised to unveil just that in the next three weeks, saying environmental assessments would be required — and published on the USDA website — and there would be a 30-day comment period on applications for larger projects.