Policy Paper Aims to Help Decisions on Bio-Pharming in Colorado

A new policy paper issued by the Colorado Institute of Public Policy urges case-by-case analysis to determine if and how an emerging agricultural biotechnology, called "bio-pharming," could be used in Colorado.

In bio-pharming, crops are genetically engineered to produce special proteins for pharmaceuticals. The technology was introduced on Colorado’s Eastern Plains in summer 2004, when a plot of experimental corn was planted to produce a unique protein that could lead to a vaccine against diarrhea, a serious health problem in developing countries.

The crop of 2,000 corn plants – designed to provide pharmaceuticals, not food – put Colorado at a policy crossroads: Should the state pursue bio-pharming? How could Colorado maximize benefits and minimize risks from the technology?

The neutral policy paper presents benefit and risk analysis as a way to answer those questions. The paper identifies bio-pharming as a possible tool for rural economic development, which could be the technology’s chief benefit for Colorado and its communities. It also details potential human-health, environmental and market-related risks that could arise with bio-pharming.

The paper, called "Bio-pharming in Colorado: A guide to issues for making informed choices," provides scientific information and decision-making strategies to help Colorado leaders and community residents address bio-pharming. It also includes insights and opinions from dozens of Colorado residents who took part in bio-pharming focus groups.

The Colorado Institute of Public Policy funded and published the paper, with help from Colorado State faculty researchers and additional input from three faculty reviewers at other universities.

"We hope the paper gives Colorado decision-makers and interested residents relevant, research-based information – and tools they can use to make sound decisions about bio-pharming," said Lyn Kathlene, director of the policy institute at Colorado State.

The policy paper is the first such report published by the one-year-old institute, which draws upon Colorado State research expertise to address matters of pressing public policy, especially in the areas of agriculture, natural resources and people.

"The bio-pharming paper reflects our efforts to act as a bridge between Colorado State and the policy arena," Kathlene said. "We want to get research-based information into the hands of state and community leaders so they have knowledge they might need when making important decisions."

The full "Bio-pharming in Colorado" report and the summary report are available on the Web at www.cahs.colostate.edu/cipp/WhitePapers.asp.