Monday, September 18, 2006

GM Rice Infects non-GM Rice

Now, how did that happen?

I feel ambivalence about genes that have been unnaturally engineered.

On one hand, I suspect my taste for the original tomato, a "small, hollow/seedy, fuzzy-skinned and barely edible fruit from vines growing along the coast of what today is modern Peru, " would never have developed if not for human-induced hybridization over the centuries. Hear, hear, genetic engineer!

On the other hand, when genes from one species of plant have been spliced into genes of an entirely different species of plant (do they use non-plant species too?) producing some kind of physically indistinguishable proprietary mutant, I get a little jittery. Testing these new organisms quells my jitters somewhat. I mean, who knows what public health or environmental hazards these new organisms with their new proteins might inflict?

On to the case of Bayer Corporation's genetically modified LibertyLink rice (LL601)...
On September 14, 2006, the folks at the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a legal petition with the USDA that states "no variety of LibertyLink rice has been adequately tested to detect potentially hazardous side effects of genetic engineering."
- CFS, USDA Urged to Deny Approval of Illegal Genetically Engineered Rice Found in Food Chain
Even more unfortunately...
On August 18, 2006, "it was discovered that Bayer's mutant rice, gene-spliced to survive heavy doses of a powerful herbicide called glufosinate, had contaminated U.S. long grain rice stocks. The USDA admitted it had "no idea" how extensive the contamination was. Meanwhile Japan has banned all U.S. rice imports, while the EU is rejecting U.S. imports that test positive for contamination."
- Organic Bytes, Issue No. 90, September 15, 2006
It appears to be widespread...
"The Secretary of the Arkansas Agriculture Department recently stated that "almost all" tested samples of long-grain rice, grown in the Southern rice belt, were turning up positive for LLRICE601."
- CFS, USDA Urged to Deny Approval of Illegal Genetically Engineered Rice Found in Food Chain
So, we ban the contaminated spinach, but we fast-track the contaminated rice...
"Bayer is now asking USDA to grant retroactive market approval of the illegal rice, even though it remains inadequately tested, and the company gave up plans to market LL601 in 2001."
- CFS, USDA to Rubber-Stamp Contamination of Food with Illegal, Genetically Engineered Rice Banned in Japan and Europe
The USDA is fielding public comments on Bayer's request until October 18, 2006. Who wants to wager that Bayer's request will fly?

Boycotting will be difficult if the USDA and Bayer have their way and contaminated rice ends up in beer, baby-food, Uncle Ben's, and breakfast cereals. Fields of organic rice have not been spared. I'm a fan of buying food produced locally, but in this instance I may shop around for non-contaminated imports.

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