GE Rice: A Center for Food Safety Call to Action!

* *A Center for Food Safety Call to Action * *
February 18, 2005

Please fax or email your comments today and forward to everyone you know in Missouri!

A small pharmaceutical company called Ventria Biosciences is attempting to plant its varieties of genetically engineering pharmaceutical rice - engineered with human genes - in the bootheel of Missouri, the heart of the state's rice-producing region. They have applied to the US Department of Agriculture for permits to grow up to 204 acres of their rice, and hope to plant it this spring.

The US Food and Drug Administration has not certified that this rice is safe for human consumption, and their policy states that drugs in food is unacceptable. However, many scientists, rice farmers and regulators acknowledge that it is impossible to guarantee that contamination of the food supply won't happen. The Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council is opposed to the planting of this rice, and the National Food Processors Association demands "no use of food or feed crops for plant-made pharmaceutical production without a '100% guarantee' against any contamination."

One year ago, Ventria attempted to plant their drug-producing rice in California. A huge outcry from rice farmers, environmentalists, consumers, and legislators forced the California Department of Food and Agriculture to delay a decision, which prevented the planting in 2004. Ventria has since moved its operations to Missouri, where it expects to meet with less resistence and regulations.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture will ultimately have the authority to stop the planting of Ventria's rice, protect the food supply from contamination by drugs, and protect the economic well-being of rice farmers. But they need to hear from from you to influence their decision.

The letter below demands that the Director of Agriculture call for a 30-day comment period to hear from all concerned constituents about this important issue. Please fax or email it right away - time is of the essence since the rice could be planted as early as April 2005.

Email your letter to aginfo@mda.mo.gov, Attn: Mr. Ferrell, Director. Or, if you prefer, you can fax your letter to (573) 751-1784 or (573) 751-5002.

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[date]

Fred Ferrell, Director
Missouri Department of Agriculture
PO Box 630
1616 Missouri Boulevard
Jefferson City, Missouri 65102

Dear Mr. Ferrell,

[state your business or organization, profession, etc.]. I/We am/are very concerned about the proposed introduction into Missouri of drug-producing pharmaceutical rice produced by Ventria Biosciences. Such an introduction puts the integrity, economy, and reputation of the rice industry at risk, and presents a threat to the safety of the food supply.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is reviewing applications from Ventria Biosciences to plant up to 204.5 acres of pharmaceutical rice in southeastern Missouri (the main rice growing region of the state) under three field trial permits. The Missouri Department of Agriculture will have the opportunity to concur, not concur, or suggest changes to the conditions of the field trial permits.

The recombinant human proteins produced by these pharmaceutical rice varieties have not been assessed or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Although Ventria Biosciences has sought FDA approval for unintended or "adventitious presence" of the pharmaceutical rice in human food, they have not obtained that approval, and are not required to obtain it prior to planting the pharmaceutical rice in Missouri. Ventria is assuring state officials, farmers and food companies that food-grade rice will not be contaminated by its pharmaceutical rice varieties. Yet in a letter to the FDA dated Nov. 24, 2003, Ventria Vice-President Delia R. Bethell states: "In addition, we recognize the possibility of the inadvertent introduction of LF164 [pharmaceutical rice] at low, adventitious levels into commercial rice varieties."

Although buffer strips may reduce the risk of cross-pollination, pharmaceutical rice grains could be dispersed large distances from the production site during transportation to and from fields, in irrigation water, through vectoring by wildlife, as the result of extreme weather events, during the handling stages, via equipment usage (even if dedicated equipment is stipulated), or as the result of human error or negligence. The result of almost certain contamination will be the presence of unapproved drugs in our food supply.

The proposed production of this pharmaceutical food crop is planned to occur at a time when many scientific, food manufacturing, and agricultural organizations are opposing the use of food crops for drug production. This is an issue of great significance to the entire rice industry in the South, the agricultural economy of the region, to the environment, and to domestic and foreign consumers of American rice.

Neither Ventria Biosciences nor their partners Northwest Missouri State University solicited input from rice industry members in Missouri or neighboring rice producing states. Given the significant economic issues at stake for the rice industry of Missouri and the region, their input must be solicited. Also, because of the potential human and environmental health impacts, it is incumbent upon you to consider the concerns of the citizens of Missouri at large, and consumers of Missouri rice internationally. Therefore, I urge you, prior to your decision on the USDA field trial permit, to submit a request to the Governor to execute an executive order mandating a minimum 30 day public comment and hearing period.

Thank you for your careful consideration of this matter.

Sincerely,

[name]