Pharma crops

"Pharma" crops are GM crops used to produce medical drugs.

There are concerns about what could happen if GM pharma crops entered the food chain, and about the environment impacts.

The development of GM crops to produce drugs and vaccines has received considerable investment and is relatively well advanced. Some high-value proteins for use in research and diagnostics are already in commercial production from GM plants. The US Department of Agriculture has given approval for 3,000 acres of GM rice produce human proteins found in breast milk and saliva to be grown in Kansas. Currently, however, there are no drugs licensed for use that are produced in this way. GM plants are being investigated for the production of:

  • vaccines;
  • antibodies;
  • therapeutic proteins.

The hype surrounding edible vaccines and 'food as pill' is misplaced as this is both unrealistic and a potentially dangerous option - it will be difficult to control intake and distribution, particularly in developing countries where education levels and literacy may be low. Ultimately, GM crops will at best provide a different form of manufacture of a protein or vaccine component. Where these replace a protein isolated from an animal or human source, this will have human safety benefits. However, the inadvertent consumption of a drug-producing crop and the potential for gene flow to other crops mean that food crops should not be used.


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