GENET archive


2-Plants: Biotech rice crop now looks unlikely in Missouri (USA)

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Biotech rice crop now looks unlikely
SOURCE: SEMO News Service, by Scott Moyers / Daily American Republic, USA
DATE:   26 Apr 2005

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Biotech rice crop now looks unlikely

With the rice-growing season several weeks old, a biotech firm wanting to
plant Missouri's first genetically modified rice crop indicated Monday
that last-minute setbacks make producing a crop this year less likely.

"We haven't given up, but it's going to be pretty tough," Ventria
Biosciences president Scott Deeter said. "We're still working whatever
angles we can to make it work in Missouri, but we're business people.
We're developing alternatives as we speak."

Ventria is looking at backup plans such as getting pharmaceutical rice
crops started in North Carolina, where it already has permits, and
supplementing those crops in South American fields later this year.

"We're definitely going to have some production this year, whether or not
it's in Missouri," he said.

Deeter says Ventria has set a deadline of May 20 to see if it can clear
governmental hurdles in Missouri created when it agreed to abandon its
original plan of growing 150 acres of so-called pharmaceutical crops -
those that contain human medicines - in Chaffee.

The company agreed earlier this month to find another site that would be
at least 120 miles from Southeast Missouri rice country, where rice is
grown for human consumption. That change was in response to pressure from
local farmers and to beer giant Anheuser-Busch's threat to discontinue
buying Missouri rice. Both feared the genetically modified rice would
contaminate rice grown for human consumption and damage their markets.

Based on that agreement, Anheuser-Busch backed off from its boycott and
eased the minds of some rice farmers in the Bootheel. Anheuser-Busch is
one of the country's largest buyers of rice, which is a starch component
of its beers.

Another concern for farmers was how Riceland, the world's largest rice
miller and biggest buyer of Missouri rice, would react to the agreement.
Riceland spokesman Bill Reed said the agreement addresses the company's
major concerns.

Unlikely to meet deadline

That leaves Ventria searching for another spot in Missouri to grow rice
and for permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to grow it
there. While Deeter said the California company has a few unnamed spots
in Missouri in mind, the process is unlikely to be completed in time to
meet the company's deadline.

That dims the hopes of some, including Gov. Matt Blunt, that the Ventria
project would enable Missouri to become a big-time player in the
pharmaceutical crop industry. Ventria says its genetically modified rice
could be engineered to produce proteins that could address health issues
like severe dehydration due to diarrhea, which kills more than 1.3
million children under the age of 5 every year across the globe.

Blunt has asked the USDA to expedite the permitting process, but USDA
spokeswoman Karen Eggert said the department is waiting to hear whether
Ventria wants to amend its current permit or apply for an entirely new one.

Either way, she said, a new environmental assessment would have to be
done at a new site involving government scientists studying the area to
make sure the project would not pose risks to other crops or people. She
said the assessment includes a 30-day period of public comment. The
process takes anywhere from a month to seven months, she said.

Differences in climate

Even if Ventria does get the permits it needs and does find a spot in a
different area of the state, some experts and farmers say Ventria may
still have problems because some parts of the state aren't conducive to
rice growing.

Gerald Bryan, an agronomy specialist with the University of Missouri
Extension office in Jackson, said rice has been grown in the Hannibal,
Mo., area in the past. But he said Southeast Missouri has ideal
conditions for growing rice because of its ample water supply, flat land
and lengthy growing season.

"The problem they're going to have with Ventria is you lose 10 days of
growing season if you get as far north as St. Louis," he said. "When you
lose days like that, it may not be enough to let your crop mature."

Also, Bryan said, few places outside Southeast Missouri have enough
natural irrigation to grow rice. Southeast Missouri also has the best
soil types for growing rice, Bryan said.

Deeter, however, said it can be done in other parts of the state.
Ventria's project doesn't need as big a yield as rice for food. The
company is evaluating four different areas of the state to see which one
would work best. The company also is looking at developing new varieties
of rice that could be grown in less-than-ideal conditions.

"Obviously, Southeast Missouri was our first choice for a reason," he
said. "Now we're looking for the second-best area. So we know our
potential for lost yield is increased. So we'll just have to cross our

If no crop is grown this year in Missouri, Ventria will make another go
of it in the state in 2006, Deeter said, though not in Southeast
Missouri. Ventria has developed a partnership with Northwest Missouri
State University, which played a big role in bringing the company to
Missouri from California, where it had similar troubles.

The university signed an agreement last year with Ventria in which
Northwest agreed to build and equip a $30 million plant sciences center
in Maryville, Mo., to house Ventria. Deeter said the company still plans
to honor that commitment to Missouri and to that university.

Hoping for FDA ruling

He also hopes some of the rice farmers will have their concerns allayed
if the Food and Drug Administration rules that genetically modified rice
- specifically the proteins that will be created - is safe for human
consumption. That may smooth out the process next year.

The FDA is studying that issue.

But farmers still have concerns. About 30 rice farmers and two state
legislators gathered to discuss them Friday night at a meeting in Dexter
held by the Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council.

"Even if it's more than 120 miles from us, we still have concerns," said
B.J. Campbell, a board member who farms 700 acres near Qulin, Mo.
"There's still birds that can carry it that far. Those birds fly hundreds
of miles, and it could still end up in our crops."

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Anheuser-Busch Trapped In Social-Issue Snare
SOURCE: The New York Sun, USA, by Steven Milloy
DATE:   25 Apr 2005

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Anheuser-Busch Trapped In Social-Issue Snare

Corporate managers might want to think twice about publicly engaging in
environmental and social controversies. Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch's
managers are the latest to learn this lesson the hard way.

AB's self-inflicted problem began innocently enough when Ventria
Bioscience, a biopharmaceutical company, requested approval from the
Department of Agriculture to plant about 200 acres of biotech rice this
spring. The rice is engineered with human genes to produce proteins for
use in medicines.

The Missouri Farm Bureau, universities, and numerous biotech researchers
supported Ventria's request. The ensuing USDA environmental assessment
concluded the proposed biotech planting didn't pose a threat of
contamination to nearby conventional rice crops.

But here's where things went awry. Missouri rice growers asked the USDA
to deny Ventria's request. Anheuser-Busch, which buys Missouri rice to
brew Budweiser, joined the growers against Ventria.

But why would Missouri's rice industry, which produces about 30 million
bushels of rice worth $95 million annually, be threatened by Ventria's
measly 200 acres of biotech rice meant for medical research -- especially
since, according to experts, there's no risk of the biotech rice
disseminating and mixing with conventional crops?

Enter the activists. Anti-technology environmental groups, like
Greenpeace, have long been working to terrify the public about
agricultural biotechnology, labeling foods made with biotech crops as

Although science shows, and regulatory agencies agree, that human health
and the environment aren't at risk from biotech crops, the Green biotech
scare has had some success.

Most notoriously, Greenpeace coerced Novartis AG in 1999 to forswear
biotech crops in its Gerber baby foods by faxing a letter - addressed
simply, "To the CEO," because Greenpeace didn't know name of Novartis's
CEO - asking, "Does Gerber use genetically engineered products in its
baby food? If so, which products? What steps have you taken, if any, to
ensure that you are not using [biotech crops]?"

Then last year, Monsanto announced it was shelving plans to develop
biotech wheat because there was no market for the seeds - a condition
created by Monsanto's inability to defend against Greenpeace's relentless

Missouri's rice farmers are understandably concerned their markets might
also evaporate if the Ventria application is approved - a concern not
based in science, but rather on a "fear of fear." About 75% of Missouri's
rice crop is exported and no country currently accepts biotech rice. It's
not that Missouri rice might, in fact, be "contaminated" with biotech
rice, but if activists make the allegation, importers might ban the rice
until the matter is resolved.

A similar scare in 2000 involving taco shells alleged to contain traces
of a type of biotech corn not yet approved for human consumption forced
Kraft Foods into a product recall. No doubt Anheuser-Busch rightly became
interested in the biotech rice controversy wanting to avoid repeating
Kraft's taco-shell nightmare with flagship brand Budweiser. But then AB
erred, publicly announcing in early April that if Ventria's request were
approved, it would not buy any rice grown or processed in Missouri.

Though a compromise with Ventria was soon reached, requiring that the
biotech rice be grown at least 120 miles away from the rice-growing
region of southeast Missouri, and AB withdrew its threatened boycott, the
controversy is far from over.

The incident didn't escape the notice of anti-technology activists who,
always scanning the environment looking for vulnerable corporate
managements, started mobilizing to pressure AB about biotech rice further
a field. The Chinese government may soon approve biotech rice. Anti-
technology activists, led by Greenpeace, are apoplectic over the
commercialization of a biotech version of the world's largest food staple.

The activists plan to pressure AB to, in turn, pressure the Chinese
government not to approve biotech rice. AB, after all, brews Budweiser in
China and owns 27% of the Chinese beer Tsingtao. AB, says one activist,
"is capable of making a very effective stand against [biotech] rice in China.

AB managers' job is to sell beer, not to pressure foreign governments on
behalf of American activists. Its managers should have worked quietly to
resolve its concerns with Ventria, rather than placing the company in the
precarious position of either being labeled hypocritical or having to
take an uneasy stand against the Chinese government and an unconscionable
stand against biotechnology.


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