GENET archive


CONTAMINATION & FOOD: U.S. industry tries to purge rice strains

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Northwest Arkansas News, USA

AUTHOR: Arkansas Democrat Gazette, USA, by Nancy Cole


DATE:   18.08.2007

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Aug. 18, 2006, is a day that many in the U. S. rice industry would like to forget.

One year ago today, the U. S. Department of Agriculture announced that traces of an unapproved, genetically engineered rice had been discovered in U. S. long-grain rice supplies.

”I wish that day would never have happened,” said Keith Glover, president and chief executive officer of Producers Rice Mill Inc. in Stuttgart. ”It really created a lot of hardship for a lot of people: farmers, mills, exporters, seed dealers... everybody in the industry was impacted.”

The USDA and the Food and Drug Administration said the genetically engineered rice — one of Bayer CropScience’s LibertyLink varieties — posed no health, food safety or environmental risks. But many foreign countries, which buy about half of each year’s U. S. rice crop, shun genetically engineered foods. As a result, sales in nearly half of all U. S. rice export markets were negatively affected. Exports to the 27 member nations of the European Union halted almost completely.

The fallout from the problem was particularly acute in Arkansas where the state’s farmers produce about half of all U. S. rice. In 2006, Arkansas’ rice harvest was worth $ 892 million, making it the state’s single most valuable crop.

The U. S. rice industry has been working to purge LibertyLink traits from the country’s long-grain rice supply and restore the grain’s international competitiveness and marketability. Great strides have been made, said Ray Vester, a Stuttgart rice farmer who is chairman of the USA Rice Federation’s environmental regulatory subcommittee.

Arkansas took the lead by banning the 2007 planting of two rice varieties, Vester said. Cheniere and Clearfield 131 both tested positive for the ”adventitious presence” or unintentional commingling of trace amounts of the protein that makes LibertyLink rice varieties resistant to the herbicide Liberty, also known as glufosinate. Farmers and millers then were urged to thoroughly clean their equipment before starting the 2007 harvest.

Whether those efforts have been successful in Arkansas will become apparent later this month, when the state’s rice harvest begins, Vester said.

He and many others are confident that this year’s crop is ”clean.”

”I really feel good about what we have in the field right now,” said State Plant Board Director Darryl Little. ”My biggest fear — and I suspect that of everyone in the industry — would be carryover of Cheniere and Clearfield 131 that was grown last year that might be in on-farm storage somewhere” and get mixed with the new crop, Little said.

Rice miller Glover echoes that concern.

”You’re just nervous about that one kernel that might happen to show up” in a shipment to Europe, he said. ”If they just happen to probe and hit that one kernel, that’s all it takes to ban the whole shipment and have to ship it back.”

For that reason, the U. S. rice industry is lobbying the EU to agree to ”origin testing,” Glover said, so that U. S. exporters can be confident their rice will be accepted for delivery before it is shipped. Alternatively, the EU’s establishment of a minimum tolerance for the adventitious presence of genetically engineered traits could help to restart U. S. rice exports, he said.

USDA also could assist the rice industry by completing and releasing its long-awaited investigation into the LibertyLink case, Glover said, explaining ”what happened, how it happened and what’s being done to correct the problem.”

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has repeatedly promised to ”determine the circumstances surrounding the release [of regulated material into supplies of commercial long-grain rice ] and whether any USDA regulations were violated.” But APHIS spokesman Karen Eggert said Thursday ”that investigation is not yet complete, so we haven’t issued any final findings.”

Not surprisingly, the genetically engineered rice problem has spawned hundreds of lawsuits during the past year. Most of those cases have been brought by farmers who are suing Bayer CropScience. Some cases, however, have been brought by rice buyers and seed dealers, and several cases also name rice mills as defendants.

In December, all such rice litigation — which now numbers 184 cases — was consolidated in U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis. Judge Catherine Perry was assigned to handle all pretrial matters such as discovery, which began last month.

Most of the rice-farmer plaintiffs are seeking class-action status for their complaints, said Scott Poynter, a Little Rock attorney who serves on the plaintiffs’ executive committee. A hearing on that issue is scheduled for May 1, 2008.

”I think it’s more than likely, if [Perry ] does certify the class, that the class case would be tried with her,” Poynter said. ”Individual cases that aren’t part of the class, and any individual case where the plaintiff doesn’t fall within the class definition will go back to their original venue and court.”

Based upon the current scheduling orders, none of the rice trials will begin before 2009.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: Ohio Farmer, USA

AUTHOR: Tom J. Bechman


DATE:   17.08.2007

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Livestock people know this adage well- once in a while, the bull ’jumps the fence.’ To old cattlemen, especially, that means that if a female was in heat, a bull would do his best to try to find her, even if she was in a different pasture, and he was supposed to stay put. In some ways, it’s not that different in cornfields. Pollen has a habit of sometimes ’jumping the fence’ and traveling into neighboring rows.

How far it can travel is still a point of discussion. That it can travel and pollinate corn in a nearby field is not-its fact. Dave Nanda, consultant for the Farm Progress Corn Illustrated plots at Edinburgh, Ind., proved that visually again this summer by growing white sweet corn near field corn. The white corn was separated by a five-foot alley, simulating a fence row situation.

Ears nearest the field corn contained the most yellow kernels. One ear Nanda discovered was nearly half yellow, although not in a pattern- more in an irregular patchwork of white and yellow kernels. Other ears, even close to the field corn, didn’t contain as much yellow. In general, as you moved several feet away, simulating several border rows in a field situation, there were fewer and fewer yellow kernels.

So will those yellow kernels taste like sweet corn? ”No, but in most cases, as you move farther out, there isn’t enough of them to make you not want to eat the corn,” Nanda quips. Nanda, president of Bird Hybrids, Tiffin, Ohio, is a big fan of sweet corn, especially if the kernels are plump.

In a field situation, pollen from other fields or other hybrids within the same field will also drift somewhat, as illustrated in the white sweetcorn example. Whether it’s a concern or not depends upon what you’re growing, and how strict the quality standards must be, Nanda notes. For some traits, just making a pass along the edge of the field and not including that first six to eight rows in the grain you’re selling that is supposed to contain or not contain a trait may be enough. In other cases, it may mean establishing exact differences from one type of corn to another.

For example, when you visit the Farm Progress Show in two weeks, you will want to visit Mosnanto’s exhibit. Located on the southeast corner of Progress City at the Decatur, Ill., site, the exhibit contains corn and soybeans growing that aren’t yet approved to be grown in the U.S.. Not only must the crop be destroyed, but it was necessary to make sure corn wasn’t planted within a specific distance of the exhibit. So even beyond the south parking lot at the show, east of Progress City, where crops begin, there will be soybeans and even some alfalfa for the first part of the field. That’s so even though soybeans won’t be combined for demonstration purposes at the show. Show organizers note that they needed separation distance from the Monsanto plots to comply with federal standards governing planting and growing of experimental crops containing genetically-modified traits.

How far away corn of a different kind, a different color, if you will, must be planted to avoid contamination may depend upon various factors. But it remains a fact of nature that pollen will drift. This simple exercise in the Corn Illustrated plots simply reaffirms that the drift is there. If it’s yellow corn pollinating another yellow hybrid, it’s not obvious. Yellow kernels scattered in patches on a white ear are hard to miss.

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: Twin Cities Daily Planet, USA

AUTHOR: David Rubenstein


DATE:   06.08.2007

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David Rubenstein has written on state and national political issues for more than 20 years. His work has appeared in Minnesota Law and Politics, the Star Tribune, The Nation magazine, Pulse of the Twin Cities, the New York Times and other regional and national publications.

Wild rice gets protection from the state legislature – for now

American Indians living around the Great Lakes have harvested wild rice for centuries. But only in the last few years, with advances in ”genetic modification,” has it seemed possible that the crop itself might be threatened and the tradition brought to an end.

Genetic modification is a powerful technology that uses laboratory techniques to alter the genetic makeup of animals or plants at the cellular level.

Minnesota tribes and their political allies tried in 2005 and 2006 to get the Minnesota legislature to do something about the threat, but they ran into a brick wall.

This year the tribes may have hit pay dirt. The 2007 legislature passed what State Rep. Frank Moe (DFL-Bemidji) says was the first state bill to actually protect a native species from genetic modification above and beyond the normal regulatory process that the USDA has in place.

Genetic modification has already been used to increase yields and otherwise alter some crops. But the technology is in its infancy and its effects are not predictable. It clearly tightens the grip of large corporations on agriculture, and critics argue it inevitably will reduce genetic diversity.

Closer to Fond du Lac, many people warn that a genetically engineered variant on traditional wild rice, manoomin, could spread into native wild rice stands and then alter or even displace the native species.

”The pathway probably would be from pollen drift into a regular wild rice bed, and then through breeding with the native rice,” said Thomas Howes, Fond du Lac Natural Resources Program Manager. ”We know that pollen carries quite a distance through wind, birds and insects.”

The biotech industry had always claimed that pollen drift is a minor problem that can be solved by ”buffer zones.” Critics said that was industry hype or wishful thinking.

In the last few years, the critics have been proven right, according to Allen Richardson, who worked under contract with the White Earth Land Recovery Project to help get the new law passed. Between the 2006 and 2007 legislative sessions, one incident in particular shook the industry, according to Richardson.

”Genetically engineered white rice, which had been grown only in test plots, ended up contaminating much of the harvest of the white rice crop in the Southeastern United States – a major U.S. export,” Richardson says. ”Many foreign buyers in Europe and Asia in particular wanted nothing to do with it.”

It was especially unnerving that the contamination didn’t come to light until years after the field tests had ended. That incident, several others, and recent court cases all took some wind out of the biotech industry sails, according to Richardson. That was a major reason legislation passed this year after two years of failure.

Another factor was the Democrats’ success in the 2006 elections, and the fact that they now are a majority in both the Minnesota House and Senate. Wild Rice protection became part of the DFL platform.

Proponents then began developing political support. Richardson worked local governments and community groups around the state. The Duluth and Park Rapids city councils and the St. Louis County board passed resolutions favoring wild rice protection.

Additional support came from about 50 business and environmental groups. When the vote came down in the House, it was 88-44, with virtually the entire DFL caucus supporting the bill, along with a few Republicans.

About 800 acres on the Fond du Lac Reservation are actively managed, according to Howes, the Natural Resources Program Manager.

”That’s five different lakes,” he said. ”In a good year, probably about 35,000 to 40,000 pounds of rice comes off those lakes.”

The management includes the use of heavy equipment to restore and repair damage resulting from a large ditch project undertaken in the early 1900s. The intent of that project was to create more agricultural land, but instead, as the Fond du Lac band website puts it, ”areas that were wetlands simply became a little less wet.”

Fond du Lac Band Member Bruce Savage has been ricing for close to 40 years, starting as a young boy who hung around the landings and helped push off canoes through the muck. Now he has a business with people working for him, and he sells rice at places like the Duluth farmer’s market and sustainable food events.

Savage is less of a traditionalist than some ricers.

”We always managed the forest, and we managed our rice. We didn’t just wander through the forest aimlessly looking for food, as the history books portray us,” he says. ”Some of us to this day believe that.”

But management should not include genetic engineering, as far as Savage is concerned. As for the new legislation, he has some doubts. ”I’ve heard that all they have to do is apply for the licensing and they can continue to do it,” he said.

Richardson admits the bill’s sponsors initially had doubts themselves. ”We thought we were being railroaded,” he says, ”but the more we looked into it, the better an idea it turned out to be.”

Although there is no mention of a ”moratorium” in the new law, the language all but insures there is one. Experimenters must do an environmental impact statement. That typically takes months, and for a controversial project it may take years. All parties can weigh in.

The legislation also insures that in the meantime a state Department of Natural Resource study will clarify the extent and condition of current wild rice stands statewide, including the threats they could face and what the legislature might do in the future to protect them.

The 2007 legislation was a tradeoff that reflected the weakened position of Republicans in Minnesota as well as problems in the biotech industry nation-wide. They agreed in effect to allow the bill to go forward.

In exchange, the industry got a bill that never comes right out and prohibits or even criticizes genetic engineering, and never mentions any crop except wild rice.

With this legislation, you won’t necessarily be able to say that Minnesota is ”unfriendly” to the industry. You will be able to say that it respects and protects a traditional native resource that is, after all, protected by treaty.



European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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