Subsidizing Pharma in the US?

Taxpayers Could End Up Funding Research on Edible mRNA Vaccines Under $460 Billion Spending Bill

The omnibus spending bill passed Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives allows funding of transgenic edible vaccine research, even though the House previously voted unanimously not to allow the funding.

By 

Suzanne Burdick, Ph.D.

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The U.S. government could fund research on transgenic edible vaccines — vaccines grown in genetically engineered plants meant for consumption by humans or animals — under the $460 billion omnibus spending bill passed Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill allows for funding of transgenic edible vaccines, even though the House previously voted unanimously not to allow the funding, according to Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who led the effort to prohibit the funding.

Before Wednesday’s vote, Massie posted on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter:

“The House voted unanimously to stop funding transgenic edible plant vaccines, but that prohibition was left out of the new omnibus.

“So your taxpayer dollars will be funding edible plant vaccines, if the enormous spending bill passes this week. Not good!”

The House in September 2023 passed an amendment — introduced by Massie — to the agricultural appropriations bill H.R.4368 that barred the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from funding the vaccines for fiscal year 2024.

Before Wednesday’s vote, Massie told The Defender why he thought the amendment was left out. “The omnibus we are voting on this week has over 600 earmarks [funding for specific projects] in it. It’s possible leadership omitted my popular amendment because it would have ended pet projects in some members’ districts.”

Vaccine-laced corn contaminated 500,000 bushels of soybeans

As previously reported by The Defender, Massie introduced the amendment on Sept. 27, 2023, after learning about a U.S. government-funded project in California that involved growing lettuce and trying to get the lettuce to produce mRNA vaccines that were intended to be consumed by humans who ate the lettuces.

The National Science Foundation gave half a million dollars to the research venture, Massie said.

Massie said he was concerned “that plants cross-pollinate and pollen from these modified plants, food-producing plants, could carry in the wind to other fields and contaminate them. And we could really contaminate a lot of our food supply with unknown doses of vaccines that would deliver unknown dosages.”

When Massie introduced his amendment on the House floor, he told Congress members that roughly 20 years ago, researchers tried to use corn to grow a vaccine to prevent diarrhea in pigs.

The field the next year was used to grow soybeans — but the corn sprouted again.

According to Massie, “There were some leftover kernels … and the corn was mixed with the soybeans, and it contaminated 500 bushels of soybeans that were then mixed with 500,000 bushels. And so, they had to destroy all of those soybeans.”

The New York Times reported in December 2002 that ProdiGene, the biotechnology company that developed the corn crop, agreed to pay the U.S. government a $3 million fine “to settle charges that it did not take proper steps to prevent corn that was genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals from entering the food supply.”

Massie asked, “Do we want humans eating vaccines that were grown in corn meant to stop pigs from getting diarrhea? I don’t think we want that to happen, yet that almost happened and it could happen.”

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This is ‘irresponsible in the extreme’

“Rep. Massie is right to be concerned,” Claire Robinson, managing editor of GMWatch, previously told The Defender. “Genetically engineering a potent immunogen into food plants is irresponsible in the extreme.”

Robinson added:

“All the usual risks of GM [genetically modified] plants — the DNA-damaging effects of the GM transformation process leads to changes in gene expression and biochemistry of the plant, which can include the production of toxins or allergens — apply to these vaccine-producing plants, with additional risks on top.

“In the case of vaccine-producing plants, you are intentionally engineering a plant to elicit an immune reaction. This increases the level of risk exponentially.”

‘Either they don’t work, or they are not safe, or both’

According to a 2013 scientific paper, transgenic edible vaccines “are prepared by introducing selected desired genes into plants and inducing these genetically modified plants to manufacture the encoded proteins.”

Such vaccines offer “several potential advantages” to conventional vaccine production techniques according to the paper, including a potentially lower cost of production that would be suitable for developing countries.

Efforts to develop transgenic edible vaccines are not new — scientific literature on the topic dates back to at least 1999.

What is new with some current attempts to develop transgenic edible vaccines is that they would be geared to deliver mRNA vaccines orally.

“These are all genetically modified crops,” Massie said. “They’ve been injected with mRNA or spliced with DNA, with the intent of creating copies of that RNA or DNA. The plants are pretty effective at that.”

This approach is not new, Robinson said. “Scientists have been trying to produce edible vaccines in plants for many years.”

However, she added, “Thus far, not one plant-produced vaccine has been approved anywhere, as far as I know. What does that tell us? Either they don’t work, or they are not safe, or both.”

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