Ventria sowing a storm with altered rice
COMMENT from Dr Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS): The food industry's concerns that production of this pharmaceutical protein in rice could have negative impacts on sales or exports are well founded. The industry's now long track record of contamination should not give anyone confidence that they can keep their pharma rice out of our food.
This article mentions that the Ventria company intends to market this product as a 'medical food'. This is an ill-defined regulatory category at the Food and Drug Administration that, similar to other GE crops, requires little regulatory oversight or safety testing.
The human-derived protein, called lactoferrin, that Ventria is producing in rice, is modified compared to the human version. This is the same class of modification that occurred in peas containing an engineered bean protein, reported several years ago to have acquired the ability to cause adverse immune responses in mice, and causing the CSIRO in Australia to cancel the project after a decade of work.
One type of adverse immune response that may be possible (although no one really knows for sure) is autoimmunity to the altered protein. This means that the body's built-in ability to distinguish its own proteins from foreign ones (e.g. from bacterial or viral pathogens), and thereby avoiding a dangerous immune response against one's own body, is lost. Well known autoimmune diseases are diabetes, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. The disease that might be caused by an autoimmune response against one's own lactoferrin is not well understood, but any immune attack against important proteins in the body is cause for concern.
Especially troubling is that Ventria apparently is able to declare that this protein should be classified as a medical food rather than a drug, which would require rigorous safety testing. For example, another company, Agenix, is producing human lactoferrin in yeast in a contained facility for treating cancer, and is going through the typical drug safety-testing route. The actions of Ventria are yet another demonstration of the recklessness of the industry.
---North Sacramento-based Ventria sowing a storm with altered rice
SacramentoBee, November 6 2007