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Arkansas weed control: GMO in rice: time for level heads

Boy, things sure can change in a hurry in agriculture. I have had a number of calls, mostly from farmers, asking my opinion on the LibertyLink rice issue.

I have had several conversations with my contacts at Riceland Foods, Inc., and also with contacts at Bayer CropScience, but I do not know any more than what everyone has read in various articles, news releases and Internet postings.

The questions include: Where did the LL601 gene come from? How did it get into our commercial production? Which varieties is it in? How widespread is it? Is there any way to get it out?

It will take a while for these to be answered by APHIS and other government agencies. I have some own ideas and suspicions, but they are just speculation. What is really needed right now is a chilling-out period and for level heads to prevail. There are huge amounts of misinformation out in the field and in come cases the “uninformed factor” is running rampant.

What is REALLY needed is for the price to bounce back while the facts are being sorted out.

We do know that the rice is completely safe. If it is any consolation to anyone, our keg was ready to change out right when the news hit. I did not change to a brand without rice in it but went right back and got another keg of Bud Light.

It is my understanding that Bayer is working to deregulate this particular LL601 event. They had actually shelved that event for one they felt had better traits. That later event is fully deregulated and approved and the tolerance is established for Liberty herbicide to be used in it.

LibertyLink rice could be being grown right now, but Bayer has chosen not to introduce the technology until the market will accept it.

A lot of farmers are upset about the sudden and large drop in the rice price at a time when the market was strengthening and things were looking up. Who would not be upset?

However, to me it is a sad day to see advertisements by lawyers in our state-wide newspaper trying to sign up folks to sue when all the facts in this matter are a long way from being established.

LibertyLink rice is being developed as a part of technology moving forward. GMO technology is prevalent in most of our other major crops. Of course, that has led some to say thank goodness it is not in rice.

We are more than 10 years into developing, growing and eating GMO crops. Genetic engineering simply is where the new technology breakthroughs in crops are going to be.

Gosh, in most major universities for the past 20 years, every clod-kicking, muddy boots-type scientist who would retire would be replaced by a “gene jockey.” Genetic engineering is prevalent is USDA, in the major universities and in industry.

We have been manipulating genes in plants in different ways ever since the first two plants ever crossed. We are just doing it in a lot of different ways now.

If this LibertyLink event is truly as widespread — although in minute amounts — as it sounds, there may be no getting it back. While that is out of my area of expertise, I can sure see how it could be extremely difficult.

I do not believe for a minute any of the conspiracy theories I have heard. Whatever happened was the result of an honest mistake in the process of trying to develop new technology.

Once it was suspected, there were a lot of steps to go through by a lot of people to know for sure it is real. Sure, the timing may have been terrible, but what timing would not have been?

It may well just be time now to let the regulatory agencies do their thing. They have plenty of expertise to determine which GMO events are safe and which are not.

Time has already proven GMO technology, when properly regulated, is safe. Perhaps it is time to move on with the technology in rice as we have in other crops.

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