Science in Society Archive

Cancer Promoting Transgenic Rice

Transgenic rice containing human insulin-like growth factor, known to promote cancer, is being developed government-funded academic researchers in Canada for commercial production. Prof. Joe Cummins exposes yet another gross violation of biosafety.

Biotech corporations, government and academia have joined up to devote intense efforts into producing pharmaceutical products in transgenic crop plants in Canada. There have been many field trials, and at least one crop, rice genetically modified to produce human lactoferrin and lysozyme is being promoted for commercial production in the field [1].

Even though the development of such pharm crops has begun to create a great deal of public concern and discussion in the United States, it has aroused scant attention among the Canadian public, still under the impression that pharm crops are restricted to the United States.

Nevertheless, extremely hazardous pharm crops have been field tested in Canada with little or no safety precaution or regulatory oversight. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is but a minor sub-department of Agriculture Canada, which actively promotes and develops transgenic crops. The Canadian news media have either ignored the extensive field trials or gave them favourable reports, in total disregard of the dangers resulting from contamination of the food crops that are mainstay of the Canadian economy.

Recently, researchers from the University of Ottawa and the National Research

Council of Canada reported that they had developed transgenic rice and tobacco plants to produce human insulin like growth factor (hIGF). The transgene is a synthetic form of the human gene, altered in DNA sequence to enhance production in plants. The activity of the protein produced in the plants was tested using an assay based on the promotion of growth of brain cancer cells.

The Canadian investigators claimed that hIGH would be useful in treating a range of disorders: growth deficiency in children, insulin resistant diabetes, osteoporosis and AIDS. However, they have singularly failed to comment on the cancer-promoting abilities of hIGF and the dangers of exposing humans and animals to it, nor the potential contamination of food crops with hIGF [2]. Scientific reviewers and journal editors have similarly neglected to discuss the risks of hIGF production of plants while promoting the clinical benefits.

There is voluminous literature on the role of hIGF in cancer cell transformation and proliferation. For example, there is evidence on the increase in breast cancer risk associated with increased hIGF [3]. Increased IGF has been observed in the milk of cattle treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) and rBGH milk is considered a potential risk factor for both breast and gastrointestinal cancers [4].

In 2001, carcasses from 386 pigs modified with IGF transgenes were "accidentally" marketed and consumed by residents of Florida [5]. The threat to public health from such exposures was largely played down by government agencies and the news media.

In Canada, dangerous immune-suppressive interleukin-10 was produced in a transgenic crop planted near a population centre with little control over the spread of the transgene or the protein, the environmental and health impacts of the test were completely ignored [6]. Canadian politicians and news media have taken a passive, if not outright submissive approach, allowing extensive testing of pharm crops without informing the public, let alone public consultation or discussion

The Institute of Science in Society has circulated numerous reports on the hazards and long term threats of transgenic pharm crops [5-9], which should be consulted for background information for all those fortunate enough to uncover clandestine field tests or production facilities near where they live. It is essential that testing and production of pharm crops be done with complete transparency, and full disclosure of the genetic makeup of the crop, its location and measures for monitoring the spread of the transgene(s) and product(s). The Canadian practice of undertaking testing and production near population centres must be made illegal. Monitoring of the testing or production facilities should be done by independent organizations, and the producers should provide quick tests, such as dip-sticks.

Finally, in Canada, the CFIA is responsible for permitting and monitoring field tests of biopharmaceutical crops, even though they lack expert knowledge in the area of pharmaceuticals, the pharmaceutical regulator Health Canada is not involved until final production facilities are established. Regulation of hazardous biopharmaceuticals by a government sub-department answering to the agriculture department that both promotes and develops transgenic crops spells disaster for Canada's food crop production.

Article first published 09/03/04


  1. Cummins J. Rice with human genes: pharming in California 2004 The Independent Science Panel

  2. Panahi M, Alli Z, Cheng X, Belbaraka L, Belgoudi J, Sardana ., Phipps J and Altosaar I. Recombinant protein expression plasmids optimized for industrial E. coli fermentation and plant systems produced biologically active human insulin-like growth factor-1 in transgenic rice and tobacco Plants. Transgenic Research PC1142,1-15, 2004 (articles in preparation).

  3. Hankinson S,Willett W, Colditz G, Hunter D, Michaud D, Deroo B, Rosner B, Speizer F and Pollak M. Circulating concentrations of insulin-like growth factor I and risk of breast cancer. Lancet 1998, 351 ,1393-7.

  4. Epstein S. Unlabeled milk from cows treated with biosynthetic growth hormones: a case of regulatory abdictation. International Journal of Health Services 1996, 26, 173-85.

  5. Cummins J. Transgenic meat scandal. Science in Society 2003, 18, 33.

  6. Cummins J. Poison Pharm crops near you. Science in Society 2002, 15,16.

  7. Ho MW. Pharmageddon. Science in Society 2003, 17, 23-24.

  8. Cummins J. Risk of edible transgenic vaccines Science in Society 2003, 17, 24 .

  9. Cummins J. Pharming cytokines in transgenic crops. Science Society 2003, 18, 32.

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