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2-Plants: Ventria on track to grow genetically modified rice in NW Missouri (USA)

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TITLE:  Ventria on track to grow genetically modified rice in NW Mo.
SOURCE: Associated Press, by Sam Hananel
DATE:   14 Sep 2005

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Ventria on track to grow genetically modified rice in NW Mo.

WASHINGTON -- Five months after Ventria Bioscience was forced to scuttle
plans to grow genetically modified rice in Missouri's Bootheel region,
the company is focusing its sights on the northwest part of the state.

Scott Deeter, president of the Sacramento-based company, said Wednesday
he expects to file an application soon with the U.S. Department of
Agriculture to grow the rice in one or more locations within 50 miles of
Northwest Missouri State University, which is in Maryville.

There were questions about whether the soil and climate in the region
would be conducive to growing rice, but Deeter said test patches of
edible rice grown this year in both the northeast and northwest corners
of the state yielded positive results.

"It's pretty amazing how well the rice did in both locations," Deeter
said. "All four of our trials this year went really well."

Ventria has been trying for months to win approval to grow so-called
pharmaceutical rice in Missouri. The rice is enhanced with synthetic
human genes that produce the proteins lactoferrin and lysozyme.

Those proteins, normally found in human milk, saliva and tears, could
then be harvested and refined for use in medicines to fight diarrhea,
dehydration and other illnesses.

When the company applied for a permit in Missouri this spring, St. Louis-
based beer giant Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. threatened not to buy any rice
grown in the state if the plan went forward. Farmers, food vendors and
environmentalists also raised concerns.

After state and congressional lawmakers intervened, the two companies
reached a truce April 15 in which Ventria agreed not to grow genetically
modified rice within 120 miles of the state's commercial rice crops,
which are in southeast Missouri's Bootheel.

Environmentalists say the project still poses a threat to other crops and
to the human food chain, even hundreds of miles away from commercial rice

"Our bottom line is there are hundreds of ways contamination could occur
for them to all be successfully blocked if pharma crops are to be grown
on a large scale in the United States," said Margaret Mellon, food and
environment program director for the Union of Concerned Scientists in

High winds, birds and human error are just a few routes for modified rice
to make its way into the food supply, Mellon said. Her organization
opposes using food crops for pharmaceutical crop production.

Deeter claims the risks are exaggerated and that Ventria officials take
precautions to isolate genetically modified rice. Unlike corn and other
crops, rice is self-pollinating, meaning the plant's male and female
organs are contained within the same flower and its pollen needs to
travel just a few feet.

Still, Mellon said unusual weather patterns like hurricanes can render
even the best precautions useless. She points to Hurricane Ophelia and
its 85 mile-per-hour winds churning off the North Carolina coast. The
storm is expected to pass right over Plymouth, N.C., where Ventria has
already planted 75 acres of genetically modified rice.

Missouri officials support Ventria's efforts. Last year, Northwest
Missouri State University and Ventria agreed to make the company the
anchor of a $30 million Center of Excellence for plant-made
pharmaceuticals on the university's campus. Ventria also plans to move
its headquarters to Missouri.

Rep. Sam Graves, the Missouri Republican who represents the Maryville
area, said he's pleased the state is embracing Ventria and its cutting-
edge research.

"Developments in genetically modified plant research hold great promise
not only for traditional agricultural crops to feed the world, but also
crops for medical purposes," Graves said.


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