Washington Editor

WASHINGTON - The Biotechnology Industry Organization revised its voluntary corn-growing moratorium after an Iowa lawmaker said the policy was based on a knee-jerk response to special interest groups instead of sound science.

In a prepared statement, Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, referred to BIO's pledge against growing corn not intended for feed or food consumption in certain "Heartland" states as a "hasty decision."

Signed more than a month ago by its members, the voluntary moratorium affected corn growing in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and portions of Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky and Ohio. Members signed the agreement on suggestions from the FDA and USDA that pharmaceutical-product plants that out-cross should be grown only in regions of the country where little or none of the plant's food/feed counterparts is grown. Corn is the subject of the moratorium because it out-crosses, meaning its pollen is spread by insects or wind. (See BioWorld Today, Nov. 5, 2002.)

But Lisa Dry, a spokeswoman for BIO, told BioWorld Today that the policy was revised because the organization did not want to appear to encourage discrimination.

In response, Beth Pellett, a spokeswoman for Grassley, said the senator supports BIO's updated policy because it "indicates that it will defer to and encourage absolute compliance with whatever future guidance or regulations may be issued by the FDA and USDA."

Carl Feldbaum, BIO's president, issued Grassley a letter clarifying BIO's position, saying the organization strongly supports regulatory oversight for all products of crop biotechnology. "We believe that government policies should reflect appropriate measures to avoid adverse consequences that would follow from a breach of confinement or containment," the letter said.

Furthermore, Feldbaum's letter said government permits should continue to be required for interstate movement, field testing and commercial planting of all regulated articles that are not intended to be used for human food or animal consumption, including pharmaceutical-producing plants and plants that produce industrial products.

Grassley released a prepared statement saying: "Iowa should be much better served with the new position BIO has taken. Iowa producers have a strong, scientific case for being involved in this new agricultural opportunity. It's good to see that BIO has realized that they are putting unscientific restraints on Iowa and many other states."

BIO also said neither the initial statement nor the revised statement was intended to be permanent. "It is based on judgment of our members in light of current knowledge and experience," Bio said. "It will be reviewed as new information and experience with this innovative technology becomes available."