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SEEDS: U.S. rice industry troubled by genetic contamination



                                  PART I
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Rice industry troubled by genetic contamination
SOURCE: The Washington Post, USA
AUTHOR: Rick Weiss
URL:    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/10/
AR2007031001323_pf.html
DATE:   11.03.2007
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Rice Industry Troubled by Genetic Contamination

When Fred Zaunbrecher heard in August that the popular variety of long-
grain rice he was planning to grow had become contaminated with snippets
of experimental, unapproved DNA, the Louisiana rice farmer took it in
stride and ordered a different variety of seed for his spring planting.

But when federal officials announced last week that the rice he and many
others switched to was also contaminated -- this time with a different
unapproved gene -- irritation grew to alarm. The two sidelined varieties
accounted for about a third of last year's Southern rice crop, and
planting was set to begin within days.

"Everybody's been scrambling for seed," Zaunbrecher said. "I have no
idea whether there will be enough or not."

The tremors going through the U.S. long-grain rice industry -- amplified
by the decision of many biotech-wary nations to restrict imports of U.S.
rice until questions of purity are resolved -- have revealed how
vulnerable a $1 billion agricultural sector can be to the escape of
something as small as a molecule of DNA. But rice is not the only crop
being affected by genetic pollution.

Eleven years after the first gene-altered crops got the go-ahead for
U.S. planting, biotech acreage is at a record high. Almost 90 percent of
U.S. soy and corn, as well as about 60 percent of U.S. cotton, is spiked
with genes from other organisms, mostly to confer resistance to insects
and to make the crops immune to weed-killing chemicals.

Yet some of those genes have spread to weeds, making them tougher to
control. Biotech crops approved only as animal feed have found their way
into human food. And plants engineered to make medicines in their
tissues have escaped from their test plots.

"Something's not working," said Al Montna, who grows 2,500 acres of rice
in California. "Something's got to change."

Some farmers are pointing fingers at biotech-seed producers, whose
carelessness, they say, has allowed experimental DNA to drift into
commercial varieties, transforming U.S. rice into a global pariah and
sending the industry into its biggest crisis in memory.

Others are fed up with the Agriculture Department, which in the past six
months has been scolded in three federal courts for not keeping adequate
tabs on the burgeoning business of genetically engineered crops.

Whatever the root cause, the string of recent missteps has sullied an
industry that, though long controversial in much of the world, has
mostly grown under the radar in the United States.

Advocates say the biotech revolution has improved productivity while
reducing the consumption of pesticides and tractor fuel. A report
commissioned by industry leader Monsanto Co., released last week,
estimated that biotech crops in 2005 allowed farmers to reduce their
carbon dioxide emissions by 9 million tons -- equivalent to removing 4
million cars from the roads.

But increasingly, farmers are concluding that early assurances that
engineered varieties could be kept segregated from conventional crops
were overstated.

So far, gene escapes have not had discernible effects on human or animal
health, leading some proponents to suggest that the real problems are
the strict rules in place from the early days of biotech, when safety
was a major concern.

"Most of these issues have been issues of regulatory compliance and
quality control," said L. Val Giddings, president of PrometheusAB, a
Silver Spring-based biotech consulting firm. "These are important, but
they aren't safety concerns."

Giddings and some others say it is time for more discriminating
standards that would treat many biotech crops as environmentally
friendly instead of criminalizing every smidgen of errant DNA.

Others see things differently.

"For years the industry said, 'This will never get out,' " said Joseph
Mendelson III, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, a
Washington advocacy group that has won several legal challenges against
the Agriculture Department's handling of biotech crops. "Now it's, 'It
will get out, but what does it matter?' We can have a scientific debate
about that, but in the meantime it certainly matters a lot economically,
because so much of the world doesn't want this stuff."

U.S. farmers such as Zaunbrecher have been caught in the middle,
fighting off domestic efforts to introduce gene-altered rice until
international markets warm to the product. He was going to plant a
conventional variety called Cheniere on at least 500 of his more than
2,000 acres, until he learned that it had become inexplicably tainted
with a weedkiller-resistant gene created by Bayer CropScience of
Research Triangle Park, N.C., that was unapproved for rice.

In its place, he ordered Clearfield131, another non-engineered variety,
developed by BASF of Germany. But on March 5, the USDA put out an
emergency call to prevent all planting of that variety. Tests had found
two laboratory-made genes not meant to be in it, one belonging to Bayer
and one that has yet to be fully identified.

"Everybody's frustrated," said Bobby Hanks, who employs about 100
workers at Louisiana Rice Mill near Crowley. "At this point, the
industry has very little confidence in researchers to keep these things
out of the food stream."

Cynthia Sagers, a plant ecologist at the University of Arkansas, said
USDA rules on how to isolate experimental rice from other varieties have
not been stringent enough. Textbooks say rice is a self-pollinating
plant, meaning its pollen does not drift far. "But stand in an Arkansas
rice field at 11:45 on a sunny day," Sagers said, "and you'll see a
zillion billion pollen grains blowing around."

Even if the pollen is contained, accidental mingling of engineered and
conventional seeds occurs easily, especially when biotech varieties are
not restricted to dedicated equipment and distribution streams.

A string of recent court rulings has revealed regulatory shortcomings
for other biotech crops. In August, a federal judge criticized the USDA,
saying it had "utter disregard" for the risks posed by plantings of
biotech corn and sugar cane that the agency had endorsed in Hawaii. Two
rulings in February took the agency to task for not fully considering
the risks posed by biotech alfalfa and turf grass.

In the absence of stricter federal rules, some states have taken matters
into their own hands. When a company recently sought permission to grow
rice endowed with human drug-producing genes in California, officials
there said okay -- if the company stayed at least 500 miles from the
nearest rice field and waited for a special ruling from the state's
Department of Food and Agriculture.

When the company sought instead to plant in Missouri, that state's
legislature withheld promised research money until the company gave up
and moved to Kansas -- a state that welcomed the project in part because
no other rice is grown there.

Cindy Smith, deputy administrator in charge of biotechnology regulation
at the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said that
oversight has improved considerably in the past two years and that other
changes are coming. Central among them is a risk-based system that will
streamline approvals of biotech crops that are similar to others with
proven safety records while raising the bar for those that pose the
greatest risks.

"The nature of our regulatory system is that it has to continually
evolve . . . because we're regulating a technology that continues to
evolve," Smith said. And though she said she "fully appreciates" the
gravity of the occasional failing, Smith noted that the agency has
overseen more than 13,500 field tests on nearly 80,000 locations
nationwide, the vast majority without a hitch.

Yet in today's global market -- in which biotech food is largely
shunned, in part as a matter of "green" philosophy and in part as a
covert means of trade protectionism -- that may not be enough, said
Montna, the California grower, who is chairman of the USA Rice Federation.

"Everything is about market acceptance," Montna said, noting that the
rice federation has pushed for stricter testing of all seed to prevent
future surprises.

That would help not only farmers but seed companies, too -- some of
which are now suffering from decreased sales because their varieties
have become contaminated, and others of which are being sued for
misplacing their genes.

"I'm seeing a lot of very, very angry people," said Adam Levitt, a
Chicago lawyer who is involved in a class-action lawsuit against Bayer
that already includes hundreds of rice farmers and millers.

Bayer spokesman Greg Coffey said the company should not be blamed if the
federal rules that it followed are inadequate.

"We do believe our work has adhered to USDA regulatory guidelines," he
said, completing the circle of blame that on many farms today is as
familiar as the seasons.


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                                  PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  US bans farmers from planting GMO-tainted rice
SOURCE: Reuters
AUTHOR:
URL:    http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/40777/story.htm
DATE:   12.03.2007
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US Bans Farmers from Planting GMO-Tainted Rice

WASHINGTON - The US Department of Agriculture on Friday banned farmers
from planting a variety of rice containing genetically modified material
that has not been approved by the government, and it told growers to
destroy any plantings of the seed.

"Testing...has confirmed the presence of trace levels of genetic
material not yet approved for commercialization in Clearfield 131
(CL131) rice seed," USDA said, adding, "This seed is not an option for
planting this crop season."

Government tests confirmed results received from private testing
announced on Monday, which prompted USDA to order seed dealers to stop
selling the long-grain rice seed.

The agency said that farmers who already planted the seed can either
destroy the plants after they sprout or treat them with an herbicide.

Arkansas state officials said the Clearfield variety apparently carried
the Liberty Link RICE601 gene material, a genetically modified strain
made by Bayer CropScience. The rice variety disrupted the US rice
industry last summer after the material was found in commercial bins in
Arkansas and Missouri.

BASF Agricultural Products this week said it was removing all Clearfield
CL131 rice seed from the marketplace. BASF Agricultural is a unit of
German chemical group BASF.


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                                  PART III
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Update for rice industry regarding Clearfield 131 long-grain rice
        seed
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture
AUTHOR: Press Release
URL:    http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/content/2007/03/
CL131update3-9-07.shtml
DATE:   09.03.2007
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Update for rice industry regarding Clearfield 131 long-grain rice seed

Testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant
Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed the presence of trace
levels of genetic material not yet approved for commercialization in
Clearfield 131 (CL131) rice seed.   Based on these test results, further
distribution or planting of 2005, 2006, or 2007 registered or certified
CL 131 seed is prohibited. This seed is not an option for planting this
crop season.

These test results confirm results received from private testing that
were announced on Monday, March 5.

APHIS is issuing emergency action notifications (EANs) to distributors
of 2005, 2006, or 2007 registered or certified CL131 rice seed--and
producers who are known to have received it--to stop the further
distribution and planting of this seed.  And, APHIS is working with the
rice industry to inform distributors and farmers with saved CL 131 rice
seed from prior crop years that they cannot further distribute or plant it.

Producers who have already planted CL 131 seed this season prior to this
announcement have several options, including treating with an herbicide
or mechanically destroying the plants after emergence.  A different
variety of rice or a broadleaf crop such as soybeans can then be planted
in its place.  For further information about these options, please
contact Thomas Sim, Director of Regulatory Operations for APHIS'
Biotechnology Regulatory Services program, at (301) 734-7324.

APHIS will provide additional information next week regarding options
for any producers or distributors currently holding saved CL131 seed
from previous crop years.


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