They call it “pharming.” It’s the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to manufacture pharmaceutical compounds.
Most scientists cheer the effort on, particularly when pharming animals. After all, you can get as much antithrombin (a protein found in human blood plasma and now manufactured into the milk of GMO goats) from a single GMO goat in a year as can be derived from 90,000 blood donations.
When you’re talking about a single, well-protected herd of 200 goats producing the equivalent amounts of pharmaceutical proteins as 18 MILLION blood donations, the risks seem minimal.
After all, the goats are well guarded and sheltered from the outside world. They’re carefully bred under strict laboratory conditions. The chance of the mutated GMO goat milk making its way into our food supply is almost nil. There are Pharma Watch Dogs out there.
But what about other forms of pharming?
Pharming plants poses an altogether different set of risks. Unlike animals, where breeding can be closely monitored, plants tend to breed with the work of the wind, bees, or birds. Cross-contamination between non-GMO and GMO plants is notoriously hard to prevent, despite the best precautions.
Remember the infamous Prodigene crop contamination incident of 2002?
Since the wind alone can carry corn pollen for miles, it’s not hard to imagine a pharmaceutical-laced GMO corn plant spreading its genes to a nearby cornfield growing corn meant for human consumption. We’d be eating dangerous physician-prescribed pharmaceuticals in our corn flakes and might not even know it.
Drugs currently being manufactured in crops include (but are not limited to):
- vaccines for cholera, anthrax, plague, influenza, hepatitis C, lymphoma, and others
- interferon for liver diseases
- spermicidal antibodies
The go-to report highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of pharming was published by the Union of Concerned Scientists and can be found online here.
If you’re concerned about these sorts of GMOs making their way into your food supply (as I am), please consider this an invitation to join the No-GMO Challenge. Our goal is to help spread the word about GMOs and help the public make informed choices at the supermarket.