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Coalition isn't carrying torch for 'Frankencorn': 'Biopharming' plan seen as a monster

(Wednesday, May 14, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Deborah Frazier, Rocky Mountain News, 05/13: Colorado should just say no to drugs in corn, a coalition of farmers, organic growers and conservation groups said Monday.

Last week, a French company asked the state Department of Agriculture to allow a 30-acre test plot of genetically engineered corn in northeastern Colorado near Holyoke.

The corn's genes contain proteins used to make drugs, giving the experimental work the name "biopharming."

It's cheaper than producing the drug in a lab, and the crop pays the farmer far more than conventional corn.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved the plan, but the Food and Drug Administration bars sales of any grain accidentally tainted by the engineered plants for human consumption.

And many countries won't allow the growth or import of genetically altered crops.

"I'd rather not see it grown here," said Dave Dechant, a Weld County corn farmer and member of the American Corn Farmers.

A biotech company paid $110 million to Midwestern corn farmers who couldn't export their corn because the crop was tainted by the engineered corn, he said.

Jennifer Kemp, of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, said cross-pollination, movement of genetically engineered crops to other fields by wildlife, and winds defeated containment efforts by other companies.

"They moved ground zero out of the Corn Belt to here," said Peter Crowell, of the Western Colorado Congress. "It's a real threat to Colorado agriculture."

Frankencorn is the name that opponents of genetically engineered crops used to protest Gov. Bill Owens' silence on a request for a moratorium on biopharming.

"It's clear that Gov. Owens wants biopharming in Colorado," said Crowell. "It's also clear he's not going to listen to anyone who is against it."

Jim Miller, of the state Agriculture Department, said a panel of plant-science professors is studying the application.

"The concerns are legitimate. We don't disregard them," Miller said. He said the state has until early June, which may not leave time to grow the corn this year.

"We are not going to turn our backs on technology, but we could turn our backs on this version of the technology," he said.

The name of the farmer who owns the test plot hasn't been released, due to fears of vandalism.