07 March 2003 16:13 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (CNI)--The US biotechnology industry Friday welcomed a new plan by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to step-up its inspections of genetically modified (GM) crops used to make pharmaceuticals.
The USDA’s fresh regulatory push will "contribute to instilling public confidence in the regulatory oversight of this new technology," said Lisa Dry, a spokeswoman for the Biotechnology Industry Association (BIO) here.
"The rules that have been out there have worked, but this additional guidance is part of this natural progress, as this technology moves down a path toward commercialisation," she said. "The decisions the USDA has made are grounded in science, and we support that."
The USDA plans to send inspectors to test fields at least twice before, during and after the growing season. They will examine the fields in the off-season for renegade sprouting plants, and they will inspect farm equipment for cleanliness.
Under the new guidelines, biotech companies also will be required to maintain an unplanted border around fields, keep crops used for drugs at least a mile away from food crops and use separate farm equipment for pharmaceutical and food crops.
Companies and farmers must abide by the rules to get permits for growing GM pharmaceutical and industrial crops.
The guidelines won’t translate into much new work for industry, Dry said, because "our member companies were following these procedures anyway."
"This just makes sure that everyone is following the same guidelines," she said. "It’s helpful in letting the public know how this technology is governed. It’s a new application of biotechnology, it’s a new application of plants. Anything that strengthens the regulatory system, to give people confidence it’s working, is a good thing, so long as it’s based on science."
GM crops such as corn are increasingly being used by biotech companies to grow pharmaceutical proteins and enzymes used in the manufacture of drugs, or to grow materials for industrial products.
Both the food industry and watchdog groups are critical of the use of GM plants for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals. The new guidelines, critics said, aren’t tough enough.
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