Engineered Plants to Be Grown Outdoors in Washington State

Drug and biotech companies are using food crops to produce pharmaceutical drugs, industrial chemicals, research chemicals, untested food additives and other products. These drugs and chemicals could harm our families if they wind up in common foods such as corn chips, cereal, and baby food.

A Canadian company is poised to ramp up production of genetically engineered safflower to 1,000 acres in Washington State. The company has engineered the safflower plant—typically grown for the vegetable oil obtained from its seeds—to produce a drug to boost the immune systems of farmed shrimp.

Growing drug-producing food crops outdoors poses risks to public health and threatens the economic well-being of farmers because these crops are likely to contaminate our food supply. The ease of contamination was demonstrated in 2002 when drug maker ProdiGene allowed corn plants engineered to produce a veterinary drug to grow in a Nebraska soybean field. The subsequent harvest contaminated a grain elevator, and 500,000 bushels of tainted soybeans had to be destroyed.

Another accident is just waiting to happen.

You can find out what outdoor pharma crops are in the works in your area. The Union of Concerned Scientists put this database together from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) information on applications to grow pharma crops outdoors and our own research on individual pharma crop products.

UCS is urging people to write the USDA and tell it to fulfill its responsibility for protecting our food by banning drug-producing safflower and other "pharma" food crops grown outdoors.

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