US rice farmers take a hard line / FSA challenged in court over illegal contamination (20/2/2007)

1.FSA challenged in court over illegal contamination
2.US rice farmers take a hard line

EXTRACT: Greg Massa, who farms rice near Chico and is the group's co-chairman, said he wants a ban on any outdoor planting of genetically modified rice. (item 2)

1.FSA challenged in court over illegal contamination

The legal challenge to the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) over its alleged failure to act over imports of illegal GM rice is due to be heard in the high court today. The Judicial Review has been called for by Friends of the Earth UK.

More here:


2.US rice farmers take a hard line
By Jim Downing
The Sacramento Bee, 20 February 2007

A splinter group of more than 200 Sacramento Valley rice farmers is claiming that even experimental plantings of genetically modified rice jeopardize key export markets.

The group, Rice Producers of California, plans to release today a market study that documents the powerful opposition to such technology in several key export destinations: Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Turkey.

While the study generally reinforces conventional wisdom about these markets, the fact that the group saw fit to commission a study at all illustrates the anxiety that many export-dependent farmers continue to feel about genetically modified crops.

The DNA of such crops has been altered to yield traits such as herbicide resistance or enhanced nutritional content.

Greg Massa, who farms rice near Chico and is the group's co-chairman, said he wants a ban on any outdoor planting of genetically modified rice.

Due in large part to export concerns, transgenic rice, as it is known, has not been planted by commercial farmers in the United States or in most other countries in the world.

But it has been planted in experimental plots, and last summer traces of a rice variety containing the herbicide-tolerance "Liberty Link" gene were found to have contaminated commercial rice in several Southern states.

Futures prices for long-grain rice plunged as European importers reacted by demanding that each shipment be tested, and some other countries banned imports. Suits seeking classaction status have been filed on behalf of farmers against the German company that developed the rice, Bayer CropScience AG.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has yet to determine the source of that contamination. Bayer did not respond to a request for comment.

California farmers grow short- and medium-grain rice varieties, not long-grain, and were not affected by the Liberty Link incident. But the event reinforced for some farmers the fragility of export markets.

"We have customers that want a very specific product," said Placer County rice farmer Nick Greco. And, he said, the risk to that product presented by outdoor test plots of transgenic rice -- however small -- is unacceptable.

Only one small test plot of transgenic rice was planted statewide last year, said Kent McKenzie, who directs the grower-funded California Rice Experiment Station in Butte County and is on the state board that oversees the introduction of new rice varieties.

As much as 40 percent of California's $200 million to $400 million rice harvest is sent overseas. Nearly all of the rice grows in the Sacramento Valley. Rice is the region's most widely planted crop.

Massa said his group commissioned the study being released today to bolster its position in a simmering dispute with the California Rice Commission over transgenic crop policies. "They have been too willing to be accommodating (to biotech crop interests), and not willing enough to protect the farmers," he said.

Massa's members are all farmers, while the rice commission represents both firms that mill and sell rice, as well as the state's roughly 1,000 rice farmers.

Tim Johnson, president of the California Rice Commission, said that his group is in the process of reviewing its policy on genetic engineering. That review, he said, would address the issue of contamination arising from test plantings.

Johnson also noted that the rice commission pushed state legislation in 2000 that created a board with the authority to regulate the introduction of new rice seed varieties, genetically modified or otherwise. No other crop in the state is subject to such state-level oversight.

"The California Rice Commission has been very proactive in addressing biotechnology and other issues in the industry," he said.

For the study, a consulting firm interviewed dozens of rice importers in the four countries that represent the leading markets for California rice. The conclusion: Buyers in Japan and South Korea would reject genetically modified rice, and buyers in Taiwan and Turkey have strong objections as well.

Last week, farmers and activists seeking more thorough federal review of any new genetically modified crop won a significant court victory.

A federal judge in San Francisco held that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had not properly considered the potential environmental and market impact of the introduction of a new variety of alfalfa developed by Monsanto Corp. The ruling could lead to a mandatory and far more exhaustive review of new genetically modified crops than has previously been required.

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