Who wants rice twisties?
If you have been following the rice or biotechnology industries lately, you will be aware that Ventria Bioscience, a small Sacramento-based biotechnology company, wants to grow a genetically engineered (GE) pharmaceutical rice in California. This rice has had human genes artificially inserted into it to make the rice produce proteins that could be used to treat diarrhea. In other words, they want to grow drugs in a food crop.
For this to happen, an advisory board of the California Rice Commission (CRC) had to approve a protocol for the introduction of this rice to California. Ignoring four months of negative public testimony by farmers and others, the proposal was approved by a vote of 6-5.
Thankfully, once it landed on the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) desk for this emergency approval, the CDFA made a sensible decision by rejecting the protocol, sending it back to CRC for more work.
It is impossible to guarantee that genetically engineered crops will not contaminate unaltered crops, and the biotech industry has a terrible record of containment. So terrible, in fact, that the National Academy of Sciences reports that 100-percent containment of foreign DNA in crops is so unlikely that drugs should not be grown in food crops.
Many of us in the rice industry are very concerned that the introduction of pharmaceutical rice, which will not be classified as “food,” will have serious consequences on our ability to sell California rice. The basis for this concern comes from the experience of other U.S. commodities with genetically engineered crops.
For example, U.S. corn growers have reported $1 billion in lost markets since the introduction of GE corn. A recent study from Iowa State University predicts that wheat farmers will lose 30-50 percent of their export market if GE wheat is commercialized. For a crop like rice, where exports comprise 50 percent of sales, these impacts are unacceptable.
The California rice industry is heavily dependent upon international trade, and Japan is our largest export customer. Japanese rice importers have clearly and specifically rejected GE rice because the Japanese people simply don’t want it.
The CRC must listen to what our customers have asked for and consider how genetically engineered crops will impact rice producers and the rural economies in California. A $500 million industry, the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and the future of rice-growing counties hang in the balance. If they choose not to do this, they must be held accountable for their decisions.
The California Rice Commission can be reached at 916-929-2264.