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California Rice Commission spurns biotech (15/3/2007)

1.Rice board spurns biotech - Sacramento Bee
2.California Rice Commission supports moratorium on GE field testing - California Rice Commission

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1.Rice board spurns biotech
State commission worries test plants would cut sales overseas
By Jim Downing - Bee Staff Writer Sacramento Bee, March 15 2007
http://www.sacbee.com/103/story/138155.html

The California Rice Commission on Wednesday called for a moratorium on experimental plantings of genetically modified rice in the state, saying federal controls meant to keep such varieties from contaminating commercial rice are inadequate.

"We have to protect our industry at all costs," said Keith Davis, a Marysville-area rice farmer who is chairman of a group that has been reviewing the industry's genetic-engineering policy over the past several months.

The vote is advisory, but Tim Johnson, president of the Rice Commission, said it is likely to carry weight with the AB 2622 Advisory Board, which controls nearly all test plantings of rice in the state.

The decision by the 40-member group meeting in Colusa was driven largely by concerns that the contamination of the state's rice supplies with even a tiny amount of genetically engineered material could devastate sales to touchy export markets such as Japan and South Korea. The commission represents the state's roughly 1,000 rice farmers and processors.

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

Two still-unsolved contamination incidents in the past eight months elsewhere in the country have demonstrated the market hazards.

Last summer, a rice variety containing a gene for herbicide tolerance was found in commercial rice in several Southern states. Futures prices for long-grain rice plunged as European importers demanded that each shipment be tested. Some other countries banned U.S. rice altogether.

And on March 4, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued what amounted to a recall for the seed of a popular type of rice grown in the South because it was found to have been contaminated with genetic material not approved for human consumption. Board members say it was this incident that led to Wednesday's decision.

"Nobody has been able to explain to us what happened in the South," Davis said. "We felt that we had a necessary stance to take."

Johnson said that two experimental plantings of genetically engineered rice were approved in the state in 2006.

The DNA of genetically modified crops has been altered to yield traits such as herbicide resistance or enhanced nutritional content. Genetically modified crops are considered safe to eat, but they are opposed in many nations -- including the United States -- for ecological, moral and other reasons.

The use of genetically modified seed has become widespread in the corn, soy and cotton industries, and the technology is broadly endorsed by mainstream farm groups. But due in large part to export concerns, genetically modified rice has not been planted by commercial farmers in the United States or in most other countries in the world.

Last month, after a report documented the strong opposition to genetically modified rice in several key export markets, a group of 200 Northern California rice farmers called for an end to experimental plantings of such rice.

Greg Massa, the leader of the group and a longtime opponent of genetic engineering in rice, seemed almost dazed after Wednesday's meeting.

"I'm still shocked," said Massa, who also holds a seat on the Rice Commission board. "I went from fighting in this underdog position for the last 3 1/2 years to being in the majority literally overnight."

Martina Newell-McGloughlin, who directs the Biotechnology Research and Education Program for the University of California system, had a mixed reaction.

"Of course any group wants to protect its market," she said. "But I think this is fear rather than rational thought."

Newell-McGloughlin said she believes that existing safeguards on research plantings are adequate.

The Rice Commission's stance could put it in a strange-bedfellows situation this year as the Legislature debates a bill that would make firms that produce genetically modified seeds liable for damages if their product contaminates a field.

The state Farm Bureau opposes the bill. But the Rice Commission may find itself fighting for it alongside activist groups such as the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Food Safety.

"If the mainstream is against these things, then maybe we aren't mainstream," said rice grower Don Bransford.

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2.California Rice Commission supports moratorium on GE field testing
California Rice Commission, March 14 2007
http://www.calrice.org/documents/CRCNR031407.pdf

SACRAMENTO, CA Following mounting concern over the discovery of trace levels of genetic material unapproved for commercialization in long grain rice seed outside of California, the California Rice Commission voted this morning to support a moratorium "on the field testing of all genetically modified (GM) rice cultivars in the State of California for the 2007 crop, and for future crops, until such time as research protocol and safeguards are acceptable to the California Rice Commission."

It is the position of the industry that a moratorium on GM field testing in California would allow for an opportunity to evaluate federal regulations that safeguard the rice industry.

Following the August discovery of GM traits in long grain rice produced in southern rice growing states, the California rice industry undertook a comprehensive review of the impacts on markets and potential impacts on commercially grown rice in the state. The announcement by APHIS within recent weeks that two additional GM traits had been discovered in a variety of long grain rice, the California rice industry voted for a moratorium to evaluate the federal regulations that are the basis for all GM rice research in the state.

"Based on the events of the last few months, it is clear that the federal regulatory process is not working for rice," commented Frank Rehermann, Chair of the CRC Board and a rice producer in Live Oak, California. "It is imperative that those systems are evaluated and approved."

California has tested is public seed four times since August, all with non-detect results for Liberty Link varieties LL601, LL62 and LL06. None of the GM events in question are present in California, and commercial production of GM rice is currently not occurring in California or elsewhere in the U.S.

As a precautionary move to further reassure it markets of the integrity of state's rice, the AB 2622 Advisory Board, as authorized by the California Rice Certification Act, has adopted the requirement that all California rice variety owners submit samples for laboratory testing and confirm a non-detect status to approve those varieties for production in California during the 2007 crop year.

California already has the strongest body of law in the U.S. to address market concerns. Passed in 2000, the California Rice Certification Act provides direction and establishes measures that enable the industry to regulate new rice variety introductions and research within the state.

On August 18, 2006, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that trace amounts of regulated, genetically engineered (GE) rice were found in samples taken from commercially produced long grain rice. The trace amounts in question have only been identified in Southern long grain rice, in a variety that is not present in California.

On August 18, 2006, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that trace amounts of regulated, genetically engineered (GE) rice were found in samples taken from commercially produced long grain rice. The trace amounts in question have only been identified in Southern long grain rice, in a variety that is not present in California.

For more information about the California Rice Commission and the California rice industry, go to www.calrice.org  http://www.calrice.org
http://www.calrice.org/

The California rice industry is based in the Sacramento Valley. Each year, California rice producers plant and harvest over 500,000 acres of rice, contributing a half-billion dollars to the economy and providing habitat and fodder for 235 species of wildlife along the Pacific Flyway.

Contact: Elizabeth Horan
Communications Manager
California Rice Commission
Office: 916/387-2264
Cell: 916/205-5395
bhoran@calrice.org

 

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