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An AIDS vaccine in a breakfast cereal?
It could happen. But a group of doctors and others don't want it happening
in Oregon ? at least not yet.
They will ask the Legislature next month to impose a four-year moratorium on
biopharming, crops genetically altered to fight or prevent human diseases.
The state chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility is concerned that
such crops would infiltrate the environment, exposing residents to drugs
they don't need.
Biopharming represents the latest twist on genetic modification in
agriculture. Biotechnology companies already have produced corn varieties
containing a protein found in HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Their goal is
to manufacture food products, such as breakfast cereals, to orally deliver
an AIDS vaccine.
Various transgenic seed projects under development and expected to be
available commercially in the next few years include producing a topical gel
that prevents the spread of herpes simplex virus and oral vaccines against
hepatitis B and coli.
Rick North, project director of the nonprofit group's Campaign for Safe
Food, said biopharming threatens to expose the public to microscopic levels
of medicines drifting through the air.
"I want to take a drug when I have a need for it," he said. "I don't want to
be exposed to it without knowledge of what it does and what its side effects
Oregon currently has no biopharmaceutical crops permitted for cultivation.
But North said the physicians group, which numbers about 850 and includes
nondoctors, wants to ensure that state residents don't risk allergic
reaction from pharmaceuticals if conventional crops become contaminated by
modified genes in the future.
A coalition of farming, forest and chemical-company interests will oppose
the bill. Salem-based Oregonians for Food and Shelter helped raise $5.5
million in 2002 to defeat a state measure that would have required the
labeling of genetically modified food products.
Terry Witt, Oregonians for Food and Shelter's executive director, said the
bill proposed by the physicians group is overly broad and would bar Oregon
from research opportunities.
"I don't think the biopharming arena will ever amount to a real windfall for
Oregon farmers, but the major concern I have here is banning the technology
without ever considering the details of what might be proposed," he said.
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