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DRUGS & PHARMACROPS: Ventria's plan for modified rice createsdebate in Kansas (USA)

                                 PART I
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Company's plan for modified rice creates debate
SOURCE: Lawrence Journal-World, USA
AUTHOR: Christine Metz
DATE:   25.03.2007

Modified rice
- The USDA's reports on Ventria Bioscience's request to grow rice in
Geary County (.pdf)
- Ventria's website
- Union of Concerned Scientists Letter of Concern
- An op-ed piece Ventria published on March 7 (.doc)
- USDA OKs plan to grow genetically modified rice (03-03-07)
- Ventria to grow into Junction City (09-29-06)
- Missouri making unpopular first venture into biopharming (03-14-05)
- Genetically-altered rice set to grow in Kansas
California-based Ventria Bioscience has plans to plant more than 3,000
acres of genetically-altered rice near it's processing plant in Junction
City. Watch
- Interview with Josh McKim
Josh McKim speaks about Ventria Bioscience and genetically-altered rice
in this full-length interview. Watch
- Interview with Lee Quaintance
Lee Quaintance, an organic farmer, speaks about genetically-altered rice
in this full-length interview. Watch
- See what people are saying on the street
- How to comment on the issue:
Go to In the agency drop-down menu selected
the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Then type 2007-0006 in
the keyword or ID box and click on the Submit button.

Company's plan for modified rice creates debate
Ventria Bioscience seeks approval to plant genetically altered crop in
fields near Junction City

JUNCTION CITY -- The small paddies of rice that are expected to sprout
this year near Junction City hold much promise for Kansas.

As the first crop of commercial rice in the state, the genetically
altered grain and the arrival of the company that is growing it is seen
as a boon to the local economy.

The plant would be used to produce pharmaceuticals, not food.

"We all think this is huge for the city, the county as well as the
state," said Terry Heldstab, mayor of Junction City, a town of 20,000
with an economy that relies on agriculture and its proximity to Fort Riley.

But not everyone is backing the rice crop. The issue has produced a
worldwide debate with some farmers, scientists and environmental groups
claiming the rice is a threat.

Plants that have been genetically modified have genes from other
organisms transplanted into them to change their traits. Ventria
Bioscience, a California-based company, is seeking U.S. Department of
Agriculture approval to plant more than 3,000 acres of the genetically
altered rice in fields near Junction City. The rice has been engineered
to contain human proteins that are found in breast milk, saliva and tears.

The rice would be ground to make a flour used in a rehydration formula
for children suffering from chronic diarrhea. According to a USDA
report, the rice product also will be used as a supplement in granola
bars, yogurts and sports drinks.

Ventria officials declined to be interviewed for the story.

The company's proposal, which is open for public comment until Friday,
has received opposition from Florida to Canada.

But Heldstab said he hasn't heard any concerns from people in Junction City.

To attract Ventria and its rice crop to Kansas, the state and city
offered more than $6 million in grants and loans. The company has plans
to hire 50 to 100 people and someday plant as much as 30,000 acres of
rice with fields stretching all the way to Topeka.

"Over the next 10 years or so, we are talking hundreds of millions of
dollars in terms of economic impact," said Josh McKim, Junction City
Geary County economic development director.

Incentives for farmers

For farmers who decide to grow the rice in their fields, Ventria is
offering $150 or more per acre than what they would make on their most
profitable crop.

"There are millions of dollars in economic impact," Kansas Secretary of
Agriculture Adrian Polansky said. "What is even more exciting to me is
the synergy it creates in Kansas."

Ventria's plans have been backed by the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas
State University. But some national groups are questioning the proposal.

The Union of Concerned Scientists fears that the high winds and tornados
common in Geary County could transport the grains of rice to fields in
other states, mixing with rice intended to be eaten.

Introducing new genes into food plants can create unknown allergies,
senior analyst Karen Perry Stillerman said. Furthermore, people eating
rice aren't expecting the grains to contain the ingredients to make
pharmaceuticals, she said.

"If you contaminate the food supply, you'll have chemicals that are not
supposed to be in food," Stillerman said.

When it comes to making sure that plant-producing pharmaceuticals remain
out of the food supply, Stillerman said the USDA is not doing enough.

"The only thing that really makes sense is to not grow it in food
crops," Stillerman said.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association -- a lobbying group that represents
some of the country's leading food brands such as Dole, Hershey, General
Mills and Gerber -- is against plant-made pharmaceuticals that use crops
that are also grown as food.

Edgerton organic farmer Lee Quaintance, who grows organic wheat, soybean
and corn, fears contamination could easily occur from using the same
equipment -- everything from combines to trucks. Even if just small
amounts of genetically altered rice mingles with batches of his grain,
Quaintance said his crops would no longer meet organic certification

"Within the conventional grain-handling system, it is not designed to
keep stuff segregated and separated that much," he said.
"(Contamination) will happen."

USDA safeguards

The USDA does place stricter regulations on crops that are genetically
modified to produce drugs as opposed to those that are used for food,
USDA spokeswoman Rachel Iadicicco said.

A 50-foot barrier has to go around the rice fields, and farmers must use
equipment dedicated to cultivating the rice, according to a USDA report.

Last year, Polansky visited Ventria's test fields in North Carolina.

"It's very safe in terms of how they operate," Polansky said. "I feel
very secure and very comfortable about the protocols of the company and
about the oversight of the USDA."

Ralph Tomlinson, an Olathe resident, doesn't share Polansky's confidence
in the USDA's oversight. He points to the more than 100 incidents of
contamination from genetically modified plants in the past 15 years.

Tomlinson's 6-year-old son, Martin, suffers from severe food allergies.
Tomlinson fears that if Ventria's rice crop mixes with rice that is
intended to be eaten, a food would be on the market that his son would
be allergic to.

"We are not getting all the information on this that we need. They are
doing this huge open-air experiment, and all of us are the guinea pigs,"
Tomlinson said. "So it is really frightening."

Polansky points out that 80 percent to 90 percent of the soybean and
corn grown in Kansas is already genetically modified, and changing the
traits of plants is something that has been occurring for thousands of
years. So far, the effects have been good, he said.

Geary County agriculture extension agent Chuck Otte also doesn't think
the genetically modified rice will harm farmers or the food supply.

With a master's degree in plant breeding and plant genetics, Otte has
been studying rice production since he heard plans last summer that the
crop could be grown in Geary County.

Otte said the facts that the rice is not grown in Kansas and can't cross
pollinate with other crops grown in the state eases his concerns. Even
if the rice is spilled or scattered, chances are it wouldn't survive the
winter, he said.

Only the farmers with irrigation systems will be able to grow rice in
Geary County, Otte said. He predicts that for the first few years, the
rice will be covered in the more traditional paddies under 6 inches of
water for weed control. Brims and dikes would have to be built.

Over time, Otte said, farmers will probably use irrigation sprinklers.

Otte and other officials have said it takes about the same amount of
water to grow rice as it does corn.

While Otte is comfortable with genetically altered rice growing in Geary
County, he recognizes the progress of biotechnology has its concerns.

"One of the problems we're facing is the fact that science is advancing
far faster than society's ability to comprehend what is happening," Otte said.

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                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Kansas crop will produce medicine to help children
SOURCE: The Wichita Eagle, USA
AUTHOR: Phyllis Jacobs Griekspoor
DATE:   21.03.2007

Kansas crop will produce medicine to help children

Ventria Bioscience plans to contract with Kansas farmers in April to
plant about 200 acres of a genetically modified rice that holds
significant medical promise.

"Ideally, we'd like to see a lot more acreage," said Scott Deeter, chief
executive of Ventria.

Initially focusing on the Junction City area, the company eventually
hopes to have thousands of acres of rice production in the eastern third
of Kansas.

The medicine produced from the rice has been shown to help infants and
small children recover more rapidly from bouts of diarrhea.

About 2 million children under 5 years old die annually from diarrheal
diseases, many of them in Third World countries where people can't
afford medicines.

The promise of the plant-based ingredients providing more affordable
medicine, coupled with the promise of a more valuable crop for farmers,
helped lead Kansas to welcome the Ventria project.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture public comment period for the final
growing permit ends March 30.

Some Kansas residents are alarmed and speaking up.

In a recent e-mail to The Eagle, Barbara Tomlinson of Baldwin City
expressed concern about cross-pollination. She said her son, who suffers
from food allergies, depends on rice as a main component of his diet,
and she's worried about commercial rice becoming tainted.

She attached articles, most generated by groups known for their
opposition to biotechnology, including the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The articles alleged that the rice Ventria already grows in North
Carolina and proposes to grow in Kansas contains human genes.

"That is just not true," Deeter said. "Rice plants would not even accept
human genes."

But the rice's genes have been manipulated, giving it the ability to
produce a protein equivalent to that found in human breast milk, tears
and saliva.

"We chose to use rice... because of its record as being one of the
safest grains in the world with one of the lowest instances of any kind
of allergic reaction," Deeter said.

Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Adrian Polansky said Kansas also does
not have a wild rice population or any close relatives of wild or
domestic rice.

In addition, he said, rice is self-pollinating and does not rely on wind
or insects, such as honey bees, to spread pollen.

Planting, cultivating and harvesting will be done with dedicated
equipment, he said, and the company will be supervised by federal and
state agencies.

Deeter said the Kansas concerns are not the first the company has encountered.

Ventria withdrew from a proposed growing project in Missouri last year
even after resolving a location issue with beer-brewing giant Anheuser-
Busch, which had expressed concerns that the fields proposed for the
pharmaceutical rice were too close to commercial growing areas.

"In the end, we decided that we were more comfortable with the Kansas
location because Kansas does not have a commercial rice industry," he said.

Kansas Farm Bureau official Harry Watts said Ventria is the kind of
company that Kansas hoped to attract when it formed the Kansas
Bioscience Authority two years ago.

"This represents an additional opportunity to gain more value from the
crops we grow," Watts said. "Along with food and fiber and fuel, it is
another way to diversify the use of Kansas crops."

Polansky said growers will get a premium of about $150 per acre more
than the most profitable alternate crop they could plant -- and will be
guaranteed revenue for planting the crop even if it fails.

Ventria, based in California, has remodeled a building in Junction City
as a processing center. Scientists will grind the rice and extract a
pharmaceutical protein that will be packaged as powder to be added to fluids.

The rice would be the first commercial scale production of a
pharmaceutical crop in Kansas.

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