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Genetically Engineered Rice Threatens California

1. Genetically altered crop coming to California
2. Commission OKs genetically modified rice crops
3. Californians for GE-Free Agriculture Statement
Mercury News: Mon, Mar. 29, 2004
Genetically altered crop coming to California
By Paul Jacobs and Lisa M. Krieger

YUBA CITY - An experimental new form of rice, engineered to produce
commercial quantities of prescription drugs, is placing California in the
middle of a raging international dispute over the use of genetically
modified crops.

Sacramento-based Ventria Bioscience is seeking state approval to grow
rice that can produce commercial quantities of two human proteins, normally
found in breast milk and tears, for use in treating human illness.

If it gets the approvals it needs, the decade-old company would become
the first commercial producer of a genetically engineered "pharmaceutical''
or "pharm'' crop. Scientists use plants as "factories'' to produce human
pharmaceuticals useful in treating disease. They hope this technology will
lead to safer, more abundant and more affordable new medicines.

But opponents, including some farmers and environmental activists,
worry about contamination of table rice and the potential damage to
California's $500 million rice industry.

On Monday, a deeply divided California Rice Commission advisory
committee, meeting here in the state's Central Valley rice belt, voted 6 to
5 to endorse Ventria's plan. The proposal contains a number of safeguards to
prevent contamination, including a provision that would limit planting to 10
counties far removed from the state's rice-growing region.

The company hopes to plant up to 120 acres of the two modified rice
varieties in the next several weeks for harvest in the fall.

The advisory committee -- a mix of rice growers, marketers and
experts -- recommended that the plan be given "emergency'' approval by
California Food and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura, who will have 10
days to make a final decision. The company will also need a permit from the
U.S. Department of Agriculture to go ahead this season.

A handful of rice growers and environmentalists argued against the
Ventria plan before the advisory committee, which was set up by state law
three years ago to ensure the purity of dozens of rice varieties raised in
California for human consumption.

"I don't believe you can contain the rice,'' said Greg Massa, who
grows rice in Glenn and Colusa counties. "It's a risk to the safety and
purity of our food.''

Scientists have spliced human genes into the rice so that it produces
human proteins, which can be used in medicines. Plant-derived proteins are
superior to those produced in animals, because they don't carry the risk of
passing on infectious diseases. Plants are also be cheaper. And rice plants,
in particular, are less likely to trigger an allergic reaction.

The altered rice produces two proteins, lactoferrin and lysozyme, both
found naturally in the human body. These proteins have anti-infection,
anti-inflammatory and iron-binding properties.

When used together, lactoferrin and lysozyme could treat severe
diarrheal diseases, according to Ventria Biosciences. Diarrheal disease is
the leading cause of death in the world among children under the age of 5.

"In the developing world, diarrheal disease can be a life or death
situation,'' said Ventria Biosciences CEO Scott Deeter. ``We hope to create
a powder that can just be added to water.''

Already, 80 acres of experimental research has been conducted by
Ventria in a rice-growing region of the northern Sacramento Valley in Sutter
County, between the town of Marysville and Sutter Buttes.

They appealed to the commission on an "emergency protocol,'' so they
could start commercial planting of 120 acres this spring.

"You don't need much acreage,'' said Allan S. Felsot of Washington
State University in Richland, who tracks the industry. "And only an elite
type of farmer will be interested. It'll be the best of the best, someone
who is willing to follow very very strict protocol.''

Company officials argued that in a year of negotations with the
committee and rice commission staff, it had modified its plans to keep its
rice from mingling with other varieties. In addition to planting outside the
state's rice belt, it agreed to transport the grains to mills only in closed
trucks and to ensure that the equipment used at harvest be restricted for
producing the new varieties or, in other cases, be carefully sanitized
before being used again.
Contact Paul Jacobs at or (530) 756-0236.
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at or (408) 920-5565.

29 March 2004 Sacramento Business Journal email:

Commission OKs genetically modified rice crops

The California Rice Commission on Monday approved plans submitted by
Sacramento-based Ventria Bioscience to plant rice that has been genetically
engineered to produce human proteins. The controversial issue now moves to
the California Department of Food and Agriculture for final approval.

Ventria submitted proposed protocols to the industry group for growing the
modified crops in 10 California counties that do not now have commercial
rice cultivation. The commission narrowly approved.

"We made a decision to go ahead and recommend the protocol as an emergency
regulation." said Tim Johnson, president of the commission. The decision to
consider the matter as an emergency was based on the impending planting
season, he said; a delay would make a crop impossible this year.

Under emergency rules, a state decision could come within 10 days.

Opponents warned that the decision could make it possible for engineered
genes to move into the food chain, and that because of resistance to
genetically modified organisms in Japan and elsewhere, it could also hurt
the state's export market for rice.

"Consumers in Japan will not accept GE contamination of any crop," said rice
farmer Greg Massa, in a prepared statement issued by Californians for
GE-Free Agriculture, a coalition of organic farming, environmental and
consumer groups.

The genetically modified rice produces lactoferrin and lysozyme, proteins
found in breast milk and human tears that have antimicrobial and
anti-inflammatory properties.

Ventria plans to sell the rice to other companies for use in "medical
foods," said CEO and president Scott Deeter said. Products under development
target iron-deficient women, children suffering from chronic diarrhea and
patients with chronic diseases that lead to iron deficiency or diarrhea.

Californians for GE-Free Agriculture


For Immediate Release
March 29, 2004

Media Contact

Renata Brillinger Californians for GE-Free Agriculture
707-874-1557 x 222

Rebecca Spector Center For Food Safety

Greg Massa Massa Farms


SACRAMENTO, CA - On Monday, March 29, the California Rice Commission
(CRC) narrowly approved planting guidelines for genetically engineered
(GE) rice crops developed by Sacramento biotech company, Ventria
Biosciences. This brings the company one step closer to the country's
first commercialization of a drug-producing food crop. Ventria's
pharmaceutical rice has been genetically engineered with synthetic human
genes to produce two pharmaceutical proteins - lactoferrin and lysozyme
- commonly used as anti-microbials and anti-diarrheals.

There is growing concern in the farming community that Ventria's pharm
rice will contaminate the crops of other rice farmers and ultimately the
food supply. Though the approved guidelines restrict production to
regions that do not currently grow rice (e.g., Los Angeles, Orange, San
Diego, and seven other Southern California counties), they do not limit
how far away the rice is transported for milling, or the location of
research fields.

Groups from Japan, which is the biggest foreign market for Californian
rice, recently informed farmers in both Canada and the United States
that they would not buy certain crops from either country if GE
varieties of those crops are introduced. "Consumers in Japan will not
accept GE contamination of any crop," said rice farmer Greg Massa, " The
decision to approve Ventria's guidelines is bad news for farmers and
California's rice industry."

Ventria has not performed any tests to determine either the human health
or environmental effects of their pharmaceutical rice. They have also
failed to publicly disclose how they plan to market the rice. "Ventria
currently has no federal approval for commercializing these genetically
engineered crops," said Rebecca Spector from The Center for Food Safety.
"The CRC made today's decision in a regulatory vacuum."

The Food and Drug Administration has established a zero tolerance for
pharmaceutical crop products in food and animal feed supplies. In 2002,
corn engineered to produce an experimental diarrhea vaccine for pigs was
discovered in a soybean crop destined for a grain elevator.

"Contamination is inevitable under this protocol and the CRC did not act
in the best interests of California rice farmers or consumers," said
Renata Brillinger of Californians for GE-Free Agriculture. The proposal
will now go to the California Department of Food and Agriculture for
final approval. The CRC recommended that the approval be granted under
an emergency regulatory provision. This would require the CDFA to make a
decision in 10 days and circumvent the normal public review process.

For more background information on this issue visit


Californians for GE-Free Agriculture is a unique
coalition of sustainable farming, environmental, and consumer
Organizations united to prevent genetically engineered (GE) agriculture
in California. Our members include: Organic Consumers Association.
California Certified Organic Farmers. Center for Environmental Health.
Center for Food Safety. Community Alliance with Family Farmers. Ecological
Farming Association. Four Elements Farm. Genetic Engineering Action Network.
Occidental Arts and Ecology Center.