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US seeks to seize food tainted with medicine crops

(Thursday, June 26, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Randy Fabi, Associated Press: WASHINGTON - U.S. food products tainted with traces of pharmaceutical crops would immediately be seized from grocery store shelves under a proposal being considered by the Bush administration, government officials said yesterday.

U.S. food industry groups and consumer advocates have raised concerns about the possibility new crops engineered to produce medicines could accidentally seep into the food supply. Pharmaceutical crops, which are still in the experimental stages, are not approved for human or animal food.

Anticipating these new non-food products, the Bush administration is currently reviewing federal regulations on agriculture biotechnology.

U.S. government oversight is shared by the Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency.

Eric Flamm, FDA senior science policy adviser, said the administration was considering a proposal that deems all food products that contain medicine crops as adulterated.

"We would take strong enforcement action," Flamm said at an annual meeting of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. "We would seize the product if it was not already removed by the company."

ProdiGene Inc., a privately owned Texas biotech firm, agreed to pay about $3 million last year after USDA accused it of mishandling its bio-pharmaceutical corn crop and contaminating other crops.

USDA in March implemented stricter rules on new plantings of medicine crops to prevent another ProdiGene.

Cindy Smith, USDA deputy administrator of biotech regulations, said she expects the biotech industry to submit fewer applications this year due to the new guidelines.

USDA approved 20 applications for the 2002 planting season. As of April, the department has received seven applications to plant medicine crops, Smith said.

Separately, USDA in July will issue an interim rule requiring biotech companies obtain field permits to plant industrial crops. Smith said the proposed rule, which still faces possible revisions, would be effective immediately.