USDA about to approve GM rice project

06-03-2007 | |
USDA about to approve GM rice project

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has granted preliminary approval for a large-scale plan to grow genetically altered rice in the Midwest state of Kansas.

Ventria Bioscience wants to grow rice modified to
produce human proteins on more than 3,000 acres (1,215 hectares) of farmland.
The pharmaceutical rice would be harvested and refined for use in medicines to
fight diarrhoea, dehydration and other illnesses that kill millions of infants
and toddlers each year.

Safety concerns
While Kansas officials
have embraced the project as a boon to the state’s emerging biosciences
industry, environmentalists and some food groups warn the proteins could find
their way into the food chain, causing medical reactions or allergies.
opposed to the production of pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals in food
crops grown outdoors because we think there are too many ways contamination of
the food supply could occur,” said Karen Perry Stillerman, senior analyst at the
Union of Concerned
, a science advocacy group.

The department released a draft
environmental assessment on Wednesday that concluded planting the rice poses
virtually no risk. No commercial rice is grown in Kansas and Ventria will use
dedicated equipment, storage and processing facilities to prevent seeds from
mixing with other crops, the USDA said. The rice will be milled on site.
Stillerman said weather events, like tornadoes, could carry seeds into other
fields where contamination could occur. She also cited the possibility of human
error in transporting and handling the rice.

The public has until March
30 to submit comments to the USDA. If final approval is granted, Ventria will
begin planting rice in April or May, Deeter said.


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