At first glance, growing bioengineered corn to produce special proteins for the pharmaceutical industry looks like a good idea.
It could, after all, open a door to a high-dollar marketplace that could forever change the face of Kansas agriculture. But it could just as easily wreak havoc, critics of genetically modified crops say.
"I do not believe that in corn country we can keep a genetically engineered crop segregated from a commercially grown crop. There will be cross-pollination," said Paul Johnson, an organic farmer who lives and farms near Perry. "So the question becomes: Do you really want heart medicine in your morning corn flakes?"
Johnson said he would make his sentiments known Wed-nesday in Topeka, where an informal group of farmers, activists and agribusiness lobbyists is scheduled to meet at the request of the Kansas De-partment of Agriculture.
Plans call for the group to discuss the state's response to proposed federal regulations on so-called "pharm crops."
Dan Nagengast, who farms organically south of Clinton Lake, also will be at the meeting.
"I think we're going to hear a lot people talk about what can be done to reduce the risk of cross-pollination," Nagengast said. "But at the same time, I don't think anybody will get up and say there won't be mistakes."
Those mistakes, he said, could result in growers harvesting thousands of bushels of contaminated corn.
Jere White, executive director at the Kansas Corn Growers Assn., said that he, too, was leery of government's ability to regulate bioengineered crops. But it would be short-sighted, he said, for the state to turn its back on the new marketplace's potential.
"We don't want to close the door on biotech opportunities. There may be a way where a small operation could raise 50 to 100 acres (of bioengineered corn) and meet all of the demand for a certain product and in a way that's safe," White said.
"We want that opportunity to be there, but at the same time we don't want to do anything to jeopardize the integrity of the commercial corn crop," he said.
White said current regulations on planting bioengineered crops were so burdensome that few Kansas farmers were interested in entering the market.
At the state Department of Agriculture, spokeswoman Lisa Taylor said department officials were leaning toward recommending even greater federal oversight of bioengineered crops.
"We're expecting a wide variety of opinion," she said.