Illegal rice: outrage and outrageous acts

riceOK, now I'm angry. Really angry -- in a good way. After more that three weeks of trying to find my writing voice — and not having enough procrastination time built into my schedule to coax it out — it's finally back! Nothing like a little David and Goliath drama to spur me back into action.

"Where's the U.S. outrage?"
On August 22nd that was my comment to one of four digest posts on the fallout from the "USDA-unapproved rice (LL601) contamination of non-GM long-grain rice. Today, over a month later, I still wonder: where is our outrage?

Yesterday, I ordered a veggie omelet at a local, semi-organic cafe for lunch and caught the server double checking the menu board to see if spinach was listed as one of the ingredients. No, it was not. But our eyes met, and we both smiled that smile of understanding: "Ah, yes, eating spinach is still dangerous."

After all, on September 14th, an FDA press release warned us of a serious food-borne E. coli outbreak. I just searched the FDA site and found that there was never a word of either alarm or caution from the FDA on the GM rice outbreak, just reassurance that this variant posed "no food or feed safety concerns."

On the other hand, South Korea, Japan, and the 25-country European bloc — all have spoken out about this illegal contamination and most are testing their imports from us or outright banning U.S. rice. Greenpeace has called for a global ban. (OK, so maybe that's not so surprising -- it's their job to be vigilant, after all.)

The first article I read about the rice outbreak/contamination was published on August 19th. Actually, U.S. agriculture secretary Mike Johanns announced "the problem" on August 18th, the same day Bayer CropScience, the offending (to say the least) party, filed a petition seeking, no, not forgiveness, but USDA approval -- or "deregulation" -- of GE Rice, LL601.

Death be not proud
So, I wonder, how can they deem to be so cavalier, especially when their actions were illegal in the first place? The spinach crisis began with one death in Wisconsin. And since then, a couple more deaths may be traced to contaminated spinach -- and a large number of people were made severely ill. The death in Wisconsin happened relatively soon after consuming the seemingly benign spinach.

How long, I wonder, does it take to die from consuming seemingly benign rice? A month, a year, 20 years, 50? Does it matter if it only causes, what one article on the study of transgenic peas called, "immunological reactions"? Another research study noted that GM-pea-eating mice developed lung inflammation. Based on the research findings, the Australian biotech company responsible for developing these peas abandoned the 10-year research project -- and unsuspecting peasants were protected from consuming imperfect, and potentially life-threatening, peas.

In our country, Bayer CropScience is being sued by at least seven U.S. states, including California, and yet has the audacity to seek indulgence from the USDA. If their tactic succeeds, and they are granted deregulation, then Bayer won't be in violation of USDA regulations -- not only for the future but also for the past. Yeah, it's retroactive, baby.

emptyDeja vu:
StarLink corn

I can't help but be reminded of the time when some of our nation's corn farmers (including my own father) were right in the middle of the fallout from StarLink corn contamination. (If you recall, a woman in northern California took ill after eating a taco with a StarLink-laced Taco Bell-brand taco shell. Taco Bell later sued Aventis CropScience for loss of business during that time of worry for consumers.)

That year my dad received below market price for his non-StarLink corn -- due to widespread fears that some StarLink pollen may have traveled into his fields, contaminating his corn nonetheless. So he suffered the consequences, and consequences not of his own making. And this loss of income is a loss that gets harder and harder each year for family farmers to bear.

Now the farmer down the road had actually planted StarLink in his fields and was able to file a claim soon after with StarLink's creator Aventis CropScience, and made up for -- or at least softened -- his loss. It wasn't until 2004 that non-StarLink-planting U.S. farmers, who had filed a class action suit against Aventis, received a $112 million settlement. (I am not aware that my father was part of this class action, but I plan to call my dad this weekend to find out for sure.)

Now, American rice farmers are up in arms about the threat to their livelihood -- and for good reason. Approximately fifty percent of U.S. rice is exported. Eighty percent of that is long-grain rice. The intense scrutiny from other nations has greatly hurt U.S. rice farmers. And, according to a recent Louisiana State University news release, "Concerns have been especially high among rice growers, who sell big portions of their harvests to Kellogg for Rice Krispies, Anheuser-Busch for beer and Gerber for baby food," said Eric Wailes, an agricultural economist at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

What you can do today
You probably remember how Dairy Queen astutely outlined this rice fiasco early on and asked us to write the USDA, seeking censure, not approval, of Bayer CropScience's "failure to control its genetically-modified experiments," that they "not [be] rewarded at the expense of consumers and law-abiding rice producers everywhere."

gmoIf you haven't already, please join us and the Center for Food Safety in telling the USDA not to rubber-stamp the contamination of our food by deregulating Bayer CropScience's GE Rice, LL601. (For additional information, see what's at stake.) Note: The public comment period is open until October 10th.

3 Responsesto “Illegal rice: outrage and outrageous acts”

  1. dreadPaxman says:

    Of course no one is outraged about GMO rice. The people are terrified. They know everything is out of whack and it's only a matter of time until we're all rounded up and put in the stadiums. Our overlords are using our Constitution as toilet paper and we're allowing people to be tortured and murdered in our name all over the world. Every fucking recent election has been stolen and our leaders are looting the national treasury while our so-called moral guardians are buggering underage boys. "Are you in your boxers?" "Do I make you horny?"
    The deal's up. Call it Koyaanisqatsi -- life out of balance. The average person has been terrified into accepting any shit they're fed because they know the jackboots are coming, the knock on the door in the middle of the night is for you.
    Watchout, everything is now subversive, even eating.
    Shut your pie and eat your GMO. I'll tell you what's good for you.
    --- the dread paxman

  2. Dee Woo says:

    I understand your passion. But also ask you where the balance anc reason is for acceptability of if not GMO's, then responsible biotechnology? I am a geneticist in Seattle. And I am very conscious of foods and their origins too, as I can appreciate that you are. Indeed Starlink example not a good one. But then again responsible biotechnology has well-intended benefits for everyone -(example: yeasts, self-cloned but not GMO that provide an intervention to malaria - a human health matter supported by the Gates Foundation) ... and/or is widely consumed/used by the public today (example: the majority of the cheese that we consume is infact GMO based on the fact that it is produced w genetically engineered rennet ... even in Europe ... never mind third world hunger issues that I have seen working first hand in east Africa). So what is reasonable and responsible versus simply ideological. Where is the balance? Monsanto and ADM get picked on for good reason! Why does Genentech not get picked on for developing cancer-prevention and heart-health prevention medications via biotech and genetically modified means. I too am concerned about irresponsible GMO. But lets not be idealogically convenient. Do we throw out the baby w the bathwater? Biotech developed medication has just saved by young son from dying. So from first-hand experience ... I have had to deal with a balanced approach of practicality. Please help me to understand your thinking in a caring, well-intended, and "factually" informed way.

  3. Corn Maven says:

    I really appreciate your comment and am glad you wrote in response to my post.

    I don't believe I threw the baby out with the bathwater. I wrote this post primarily because I was reading very little in the mainstream press about the fact that an unapproved GMO rice strain had entered the human food supply. Farmers here in the U.S. were upset, as were many countries worldwide. And yet, almost everyone I have asked here in the U.S. had not heard a thing about this fact; they had, however, heard all about the contamination of spinach.

    I am cautious about the belief that biotechnology will save us from this, that, and some other thing. (I know that's a strong word, but I sense that's often implied.) In any case, as a scientist, you must understand that unleashing GMOs leads to genetic changes in non-GMO seeds. Or am I wrong about that? I don't think you can build a fence high enough to keep GMO seed from contaminating indigenous corn in Mexico or non-GMO hybrid corn in Iowa. Where are the studies that say this won't happen or that GMO corn has no adverse effects whatsoever? And why aren't GMO food products labeled as such? Seems to me, this would be scientifically advantageous, as you could trace back to the source what caused some adverse reaction or worse. But bottom line, I don't believe they should be in our environment until we know for sure if they're safe—and personally, I don't believe they should exist, as they carry a heavy price tag for many and large profit for a very few; farmers should be able to save their own seed from year to year, as they have for centuries.

    If I were ill, I can't say I wouldn't try a genetically engineered drug. But I would probably try a host of other non-GE choices first. I would have a hard time keeping myself from wondering why I have cancer or heart disease. I would wonder why more money and interest hadn't been spent figuring out why people get cancer in the first place and then doing more about that. What's in our environment that might cause our cells to mutate? Think of the lives we could affect if we got rid of manmade toxins?

    I'm not so sure we have any right to save Africa until we figure out how to use our "gifts" without doing harm first. The Gates Foundation may be well intended, but I'm not sure they are leading through wisdom as much as from reason. And there is a difference. And humans, animals, plants—the earth herself—are suffering because of it.