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March 20th, 2008:

Philip Morris Genetically Engineered Tobacco Plants

Cigarette Maker Has Conducted 33 GM Tobacco Tests Since ’05

By Alexis Madrigal EmailMarch 20, 2008 | 4:41:06 PMCategories: Genetics

Tobaccoplant_2 Two days ago, Philip Morris backed NC-State scientists announced they’d genetically engineered tobacco plants to have reduced levels of some carcinogens. Further investigation by revealed that the tobacco giant has applied for 34 field test permits for genetically modified tobacco since May of 2005, according to the USDA field trials database. 33 of the permits were issued.

Over the last three years, the USDA received 117 total applications to test GM tobacco strains, including 19 by North Carolina State University, which received $17.5 million from Philip Morris in December 2002 to map the tobacco genome.

Little can be determined about the types of studies that Philip Morris has run because they’ve labeled the details of their field permit applications, “Confidential Business Information,” sealing them from public scrutiny.

Philip Morris is not alone among tobacco companies in genetically modifying tobacco. Vector Tobacco, which has developed a low-nicotine variety of the crop, has applied for 14 field permits since 2005, although five were rejected. RJ Reynolds has applied for six, and had one denied.

But the scale of the Philip Morris’ genetic engineering program caught even staunch anti-GMO groups off-guard. Bill Freese, of Center for Food Safety, commented, “I’m shocked.”

Many groups that fight genetically modified organisms focus on genetically modified food or “pharming,” or the practice of synthesizing pharmaceuticals in plants. Tobacco, however, is a natural drug crop and falls between the cracks of most watchdog groups. For example, Vector has been marketing cigarettes with genetically modified tobacco under the Quest 1-2-3 brand since 2003, according to an interview the company’s CEO gave to Business Week. Almost no public outcry has resulted.