Last week a sharply divided California rice industry voted 6-5 to approve the nation's first commercial-scale planting of a crop genetically engineered to produce drug compounds - Ventria Bioscience's GM rice containing human proteins for use in the treatment of diarrhoea.
Apparently, all 5 of the "no" votes came from handlers and growers, while of the 6 "yes" votes 4 came from scientists and two from The Farmers Rice Cooperative (the largest handler). It is reported that FRC are experiencing a sizeable backlash, while there is speculation that some of the scientists may have plant breeding connections to relevant commercial interests or to those involved in trialing GM varieties.
Below Suman Sahai (item 1) warns from an Indian perspective that this decision has global implications. She points out that the US is the second largest exporter of rice in the world and California is the US's principle rice-growing region. A Californian paper reports (item 2) on the growing campaign of local opposition, while a press release from the Organic Trade Association (item 3) points out the extent of the failure to contain GMOs and declares America's GM food system "out of control".
Because the industry panel which approved the GM pharma rice called Ventria's proposal an emergency measure in deference to Ventria's spring planting schedule, there will be only limited public comment before a final decision is made. The California Department of Food and Agriculture has been given just 10 days to approve or reject the proposal. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3126
URGENT ACTION ALERT ON PHARMA RICE
Please send an ACTION ALERT e-mail to both the California Secretary of Food and Agriculture A.G. Kawamura and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger opposing the approval. Here is a link to this ACTION ALERT: http://www.thecampaign.org/alert_calif.php
1.AMERICA'S DRUG PRODUCING GM RICE SHOULD BE BLOCKED - Suman Sahai
2.Opponents press case against modified rice
3.GM Crop Contamination - OTA
1.AMERICA'S DRUG PRODUCING GM RICE SHOULD BE BLOCKED
The news that a California based Biotechnology Company is starting to plant two rice varieties genetically modified to produce drugs for diarrhea, should set alarm bells ringing in rice growing regions of the world, particularly those like India, which are also centers of origin. A center of origin is the region from where a particular crop originated a few thousand years ago when indigenous communities developed edible crops from the wild plants found in the forest. The wild relatives and therefore the maximum diversity of crops is found in their centers of origin.
The cause for alarm at the planting of a drug producing rice in far away California is the near certain likelihood of contamination of natural rice gene pools by the genetically engineered ones. The American company Ventria Bioscience has produced GM varieties of rice in Sacramento that are engineered to produce two compounds called lactoferrin and lysozyme that are be used as drugs to treat diarrhea. The plan is to extract these compounds from the GM rice since that would be much cheaper than setting up a factory. As with many other industrial products, the question is ‘cheaper’ for whom? The Ventria GM rice poses a serious hazard to rice growing regions because as we have seen in the past, crops produced in one region easily land up in other regions through the channels of trade or because people just carry the produce to another country.
The American Starlink corn, which is a GM corn carrying a Bt gene was not approved for use as human food since it had an allergy producing tendency. Starlink corn was however approved by the US department of Agriculture for use as animal feed. To no one’s surprise, Starlink corn was found mixed up in food articles in Japan! The reason is simple and therefore worrying. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to segregate two versions of the same product in real life. One can make complex segregation plans on paper, as Ventria is undoubtedly doing but the likelihood of mix-ups is high because field operations over hundreds of hectare are not like the tightly controlled conditions of laboratories. Contamination of one type of crop produce with another is almost certain. And if American corn could land up in Japan, what is to prevent American rice landing up in India, especially when California is a large exporter of rice.
Another contamination episode with corn should teach us a lesson about centers of origin.
Whether through international trade or through human traffic, GM corn has landed up in Mexico, and contaminated the natural gene pool of corn there. Mexico, which is a center of origin for corn, has had a ban on the planting of GM corn since 1998, yet GM corn found its way there and has crossed with Mexican corn. The contamination is assumed to have come from two sources, one, from American exports of corn to Mexico and two, from Mexicans bringing in American seeds for planting. The fact of the corn contamination has caused great distress in Mexico where corn is not just the staple food but also plays a central role in the cultural heritage of the local people, like rice does for us. Mexico moved to take strong action after the contamination was detected and has banned even research on GM corn, to cut down all sources of contamination. It is however proving to be difficult to contain the situation since corn exports to Mexico are not being stopped due to American pressure.
In the case of the Ventria drug rice, US rice exports (the US is the second largest exporter of rice in the world and California is the principle rice-growing region in the US) will ensure that it is carried to other countries. A contamination scenario similar to the Mexican corn case would be a highly likely event in rice growing countries and centers of origin, with consequences that cannot be predicted. At the very least, the pharmaceutical rice could end up in the food chain and people could end up eating rice with diarrhea drugs in it.
The issue of genetic contamination, in the natural gene pools of rice is a serious one for centers of diversity like India. Rice is the staple food of over half the world's population. For about two billion people in Asia alone, rice and rice products are the main source of food. Recognizing the centrality of rice to global food security, the UN has declared 2004 as the International Year of Rice. This is meant to focus on the threats facing rice production across the world and to develop a strategy for ensuring that sufficient rice is produced for the growing world population. The threat of genetic contamination from alien genes like those producing diarrhea drugs is the last thing that stagnating rice productivity needs. Since so little is known about the long term consequences of foreign genes moving into crop species, and almost nothing is known in the case of rice, it would be foolhardy and dangerous to take a risk with a crop that feeds over half the world.
The UN must protest America's diarrhea drug rice, as a potential threat to rice producing regions. India and other countries in Asia must take the lead in orchestrating such a protest. America’s economic interest in producing cheaper drugs cannot be allowed to jeopardize the food security of half the world.
2.Opponents press case against modified rice
FIRM WANTS TO PLANT CROPS IN CALIFORNIA
By Lisa M. Krieger
Opponents of genetically altered rice are urging the California Department of Food and Agriculture to reject an emergency proposal to plant the rice, saying it poses a risk to human health and the environment.
"A decision to allow commercial planting of pharmaceutical rice is too important and far-reaching to be fast-tracked by the state,'' Dan Jacobson of Environment California said in a statement.
If granted, it would be the first time that the state gives the green light to commercial planting of genetically engineered "pharm crops,'' which contain human genes and produce human medicines.
After months of negotiating, a Sacramento biotech company, Ventria Biosciences, is seeking immediate approval to begin planting 120 acres of the rice in counties that do not grow conventional rice.
"We've developed this plan together with the rice industry for over a year,'' said Scott Deeter, CEO of Ventria. "We welcome any scientifically valid input, and have all along. . . . This has been a very public, open process, but we're ready to move forward.''
The planting season starts in May, and the standard approval process takes four months, which would mean delaying plans until next year. On Monday, the fast-track proposal was approved by a California Rice Commission advisory committee.
It now must be reviewed by state Food and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura, who has until April 12 to make a decision. He could approve, deny or modify the advisory committee's recommendation.
The new rice contains two human proteins normally found in breast milk and tears for use in anti-infection, anti-inflammatory and iron-boosting medicines. Its most valuable application would be the treatment of severe diarrhea, the world's leading cause of death in children under 5.
While the proteins are quite probably harmless if ingested, their approval could open doors to the creation of far stronger ones.
Five consumer and environmental groups -- Consumers Union, Environment California, Friends of the Earth, Organic Consumers Union and Sierra Club California -- wrote a letter Thursday to Kawamura asking him to hold public hearings on the application, rather than granting quick consent.
A full public hearing would allow comment from consumer groups, farmers, scientists, physicians, businesses and environmental groups, they wrote.
"If the crop is grown in the open air, inadvertent and uncontrollable public exposure to the drugs in the rice is likely,'' the letter said.
3.Press Release from Organic Trade Association (OTA) 04/01/2004
OTA Encourages New Regulations for the Containment and Introduction of Genetically Engineered Organisms
Genetically Engineered Crop Contamination Threatens Consumer Choice http://www.socialfunds.com/news/release.cgi/2613.html
(CSRwire) GREENFIELD, MA Recent studies give a clear indication that those wishing to avoid genetically engineered (GE) foods are quickly finding their choices compromised. With evidence mounting of a GE food system out of control, the Organic Trade Association encourages the U.S Department of Agriculture to institute much stricter containment efforts and other new introduction regulations to prevent further GE contamination.
The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is, for the first time, proposing Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for the introduction of genetically engineered organisms. A public comment period is underway, and will end on April 13. The OTA supports creating an EIS for every class of genetically engineered organism and has submitted a detailed argument on behalf of the organization’s members (for the complete comments, see http://www.ota.com/pp/otaposition/frc/aphiseis.html on the OTA Web site).
The move was prompted by the recent study Biological Confinement of Genetically Engineered Organisms released by the National Academy of Sciences. In the study, the authors indicate that GE contamination exists and biological confinement is necessary in order to stop its spread.
Since 2000, the Organic Trade Association has called for a moratorium on the use of genetically engineered organisms in all agricultural production because of the possibility of contamination and other detrimental effects on the organic industry, and ultimately consumer choice. The Association has long believed that GE contamination was possible and could have the potential to cause unintended effects on the environment. OTA has additional concerns about the use of crops genetically engineered for pharmaceutical purposes.
"The evidence is now conclusive, as this study and others show, that GE contamination is happening," said Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association. She noted that organic producers take great care to offer customers a quality product with only the limited use of synthetic processing materials or ingredients. "Organic agriculture must be protected from contamination and damage from genetically engineered crops,” said DiMatteo.
Potential Hazards to the Organic Agriculture Industry GE contamination of conventional crops has been well documented. The contamination can occur from both seed and pollen drift from nearby fields, or the inadvertent planting of GE contaminated seed stock. Findings released in February by the Union for Concerned Scientists showed widespread contamination of conventional seed by GE materials. To help ensure ongoing availability of uncontaminated seeds that would be acceptable for organic farming, OTA urges the United States Department of Agriculture, and land-grant universities take immediate steps to reinvigorate the public plant breeding establishment.
Unintended biological evolution of GE plants is also a concern. For example, certain GE crops contain the insecticide gene for Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), designed to allow every cell of the plant to be insect resistant throughout the plant’s lifespan. Studies suggest that these plants will eventually produce insect pests that are unaffected by Bt, rendering it useless as an insecticide for non-GE crops. Bt is an approved biological pest control used sparingly by organic farmers.
Consumers seeking products that contain no genetically engineered materials may be denied their choice because of inadvertent contamination. Among other recommendations, the OTA urges the USDA to place a ban on the outdoor growing of all GE corn, soy, wheat and rice, and all crops genetically engineered to contain the Bt toxin.
Some counties across the country are taking the threats of genetic engineering into their own hands. The citizens of California’s Mendocino County recently passed ballot initiative “H,” making it the first county in the U.S. to prohibit the propagation, cultivation, raising or growing of plants that have been produced through biotechnology. Organic and non-GMO conventional farmers in Mendocino say the new law will help protect their crops and seed stock from potential contamination from neighboring GE fields.
"Genetic engineering is not being regulated by our federal or state governments, and recent reports indicate that the co-existence of growing GE and organic crops is not possible," said Katrina Frey, sales director for Frey Vineyards Ltd., located in Redwood Valley, CA. "Measure H is a shot that farmers are going to hear throughout our land. I hope that the success of measure H inspires communities and counties across the US to rise up and take action."
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is a membership-based business association whose mission is to encourage global sustainability through promoting and protecting the growth of diverse organic trade. OTA's more than 1,300 members include growers, shippers, retailers, processors, certifiers, farmer associations, brokers, consultants and others. For further info, visit OTA's web site at www.ota.com.