OK, 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.
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."
If 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.