Growing A Miracle


The president specifically asked farmers and ranchers to think about farm security issues. “Farm and ranching communities play a vital role in protecting America’s food supplies, water resources, and farm chemicals,” he said. “Their efforts are important to the safety and security of our citizens.”

These comments made me think about agro-terrorism, because it poses a direct threat to the safety and health of farmers–and an even bigger one to the safety and security of citizens everywhere.

Last summer, anti-biotech militants destroyed a crop field in France where farmers and scientists were working on an experimental plant that may help doctors treat patients who suffer from cystic fibrosis.

For farmers, there’s a basic safety issue here. Anytime an agro-terrorist sets out to destroy cropland, for whatever reason, farmers and their families may be in danger. We know these fanatics are capable of incredible violence. Not long ago, a group targeting agricultural research torched a facility at Michigan State University on New Year’s Eve. Nobody was hurt–but if anybody had been working late, there could have been serious casualties.

It’s obvious that these arsonists have no regard for humanity. If they did, they’d think a little harder about who their real casualties are – the people who rely on what we farmers grow.

The field they destroyed in France wasn’t comprised of ordinary corn. In fact, it wasn’t even ordinary biotech corn–the kind that’s consumed routinely and safely by millions of Americans and other people around the world each and every day.

It was a field of corn genetically modified to produce a wonder drug that hopes to alleviate the tremendous amount of pain and suffering caused by cystic fibrosis, a deadly disease that kills most of the people afflicted with it before they reach their 30th birthdays.

I know there’s a huge debate over the merits of biotech crops–and by all means we should have this debate. As a supporter of biotechnology applied to agriculture, I’m confident that we’ll win.

But destroying research that will help kids cope with a horrible disease is another matter entirely. It’s ghastly. Words can barely describe my revulsion for the terror these “activists” inflict upon some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

Growing drugs in crops is no high-tech fantasy. It’s about to become a farming reality. The cystic-fibrosis drug is currently in phase-two clinical trials, and the reports I’ve seen indicate that it’s making a significant difference in the lives of patients who take it. This miracle drug still must pass through a few more medical and regulatory hurdles, but growing pharmaceutical products on farms–or “pharms,” to use the trendy term–is on its way. In the future, it will offer treatments for high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other ailments.

That’s because pharming makes economic sense. Plant-made pharmaceuticals–or PMPs–are projected to cost 14 times less than drugs manufactured in traditional lab stainless steel containers called bioreactors.

We’re always told that cost shouldn’t be an issue in health care, but we all know it is. And so is access. That’s especially true for people who suffer from rare diseases with a small patient base. The costs of developing drugs is so high that it makes little sense for companies to pour massive resources into areas where they’ll never be able to recover their investment on the market. In some instances, the specific proteins needed can ONLY be produced through plants

Sometimes governments subsidize the development of these so-called orphan drugs. But they don’t cover all of the research that is happening or needed. Containing cost through drug production with PMPs holds obvious appeal.

Except to the lunatics – who never intend to celebrate an occasion like National Farm Safety and Health Week.

Bill Horan

Bill Horan

Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans and other grains with his brother on a family farm based in North Central Iowa. Bill volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network.

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