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2-Plants: Caution is key for high-tech rice farming in California

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TITLE:  Caution is key for high-tech rice farming
SOURCE: The Monerey County Herald, USA, by Don Curlee
DATE:   26 Jun 2004 

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Caution is key for high-tech rice farming

Agriculture in California has a reputation for moving ahead with new
technology, but recent action by the state's Secretary of Food &
Agriculture makes it clear that caution must prevail.

The state has temporarily rejected a bid by a Sacramento biotechnology
firm to grow genetically modified rice south of the Tehachapis, where it
is not likely to contaminate or otherwise affect the state's huge rice
crop produced primarily in the Sacramento Valley.

Ventria Biosciences, the firm that made the proposal, wants to extract
certain chemicals that are contained in the rice and use them for
medicinal purposes. That could be a boon to the state's economy, and
growing the rice in virgin areas of Southern California could boost local
economies as well.

Even though those and other benefits resulted in a positive
recommendation to proceed by a 11-person advisory committee named by
Secretary of Food & Agriculture A.G. Kawamura, he opted for a cautious

Kawamura has rejected the proposal to proceed on an emergency basis,
leaving the door open for planting the crop later -- meaning no sooner
than next year.

Inputs to the process from the rice industry were generous. Industry
leaders are well aware of the extreme negative opinions about genetically
modified food products that are held in other parts of the world,
especially in Japan.

Incidentally, California is a major supplier of rice to Japan.

Japan already maintains an inspection service in Portland, where
California rice bound for export is subjected to rigorous testing. The
opinion persists in Japan that California rice growers apply large
amounts of pesticides and herbicides, although research has shown that
Japanese growers use more of both.

Any invasion of the natural rice produced in the Sacramento Valley by the
genetically modified strains is seen as the spark to ignite new rounds of
public reaction and the incitement of fear by food activists in Japan and

Rice is one of California's major food exports. Growers have been
extremely sensitive to the opinions of their foreign customers. They have
taken advantage of technology to develop short-stemmed rice plants that
require less water and create less straw.

And they have responded to the requests of ecologists by turning their
fields into wildfowl breeding and nesting grounds.

Technology will continue to be a trademark of California agriculture as
it strives to stay ahead of demand for its products throughout the state,
nation and world.

The current issue merely confirms that it will be applied responsibly.


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