Pharming the Field: A Look at the Benefits and Risks of Bioengineering Plants to Produce Pharmaceuticals

  • July 18, 2002

The power of biotechnology now allows scientists to use plants as “factories” to produce a wide range of new products. One of the most exciting developments is the ability to use plants to produce human pharmaceuticals useful in treating cancer, cardiovascular disease, infectious diseases and other conditions. Developers hope this technology will lead to safer, more abundant and more affordable new medicines.

This powerful new application of biotechnology also raises questions about whether plantmade pharmaceuticals pose risks to humans and the environment, particularly if they are produced in plants that also serve as food or feed crops.

To shed light on these issues, the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service of the U. S. Department of Agriculture co-sponsored a two-day conference entitled Pharming the Field. This event brought together a broad range of interested parties to share information and exchange views on the potential benefits and risks associated with plant-made pharmaceuticals and to review the current laws and regulatory policies that apply to these plants.

The views that emerged from the conference are captured here to demonstrate the broad diversity of perspectives and to provide context for future dialogue on this very important issue. It should be noted that the exchanges among participants reflect only their opinions and not necessarily those of the sponsoring organizations.