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GE-trait rice situation hot topic at recent outlook conference

Last week I wrote about discussion of the LibertyLink situation at the recent Rice Outlook Conference. In addition to the presentation discussed in that article, an entire afternoon session was devoted to cleaning our current rice supply.

The rice industry is committed to delivering a product that is acceptable to a broad customer base. The center piece in the cleanup program is no Cheniere rice shall be sold for rice production in 2007.

The Arkansas State Plant Board has already ruled on that recommendation for Arkansas.

A lot of detailed recommendations in conjunction with this will be printed in a lot of different places, so I will not dwell on all of them here.

The USA Rice Federation recommends that first points of delivery require a negative seed certificate for the presence of LL traits identifying the seed source for all rice being sold. There appears to be a consensus among the major millers to require this.

Currently there is a lot of debate over what level of sensitivity at which the testing should be conducted. It would appear to me that all of this will ultimately be determined by what the individual mills require before they will allow rice to be dumped.

I am always interested in the questions asked in some of these sessions and also in the hallway and cocktail hour discussions. One question asked of a speaker from the European Union was if they are testing rice from other countries at the same levels they are testing ours for GE traits. He gave a rather lengthy answer, but I never heard a real definitive “yes.”

There was a lot of hallway discussion on how we need every single customer we can get for our rice, but there are some we may never be able to please.

Another question asked was if the U.S plans to test rice being imported into our country, and if so, will it at the same levels as other countries want to test our exports. That one sort of died on the vine, but I thought it was a good question.

Folks were continuously coming up and asking me what I thought about testing levels or the lawsuits or the EU or the technology, etc. Sometimes it can be a mistake to ask a redneck weed scientist from Des Arc, Ark., what he thinks at a cocktail hour.

I know I will be glad when the weeds start growing, and I can just write and talk about how to kill them. That will also hopefully mean that a lot of these issues will have been worked out by then.

The redneck in me tends to come out when it seems as if our farmers or the U.S. agriculture industry in general never seems to be on a level playing field. Needless to say, I would make a terrible politician — and probably rice salesman, for that matter.

It was interesting that a lot of farmers commented that we still need the LibertyLink technology. One said, “I had never had a problem with Bayer CropScience in this entire situation until it came out in the paper that they were blaming farmers for the LL trait showing up in the rice.” I just consider that to be lawyer talk in the newspaper and that is why we need the USDA/APHIS investigation to be completed as soon as possible.

I do not know what it will show, but I am hopeful it will answer a ton of those sorts of questions.

I obviously believe strongly that biotechnology must move forward in agriculture, and this includes rice. At the same time, we did not need things to happen the way they did.

Farmers are frustrated, the seed trade is frustrated, the millers are frustrated and the rice industry in general is frustrated. It is costing money as well as a lot of extra time and effort.

The scientific community is frustrated for a whole different reason. Many of us see it as an unnecessary roadblock for technology moving forward. It is obvious that it is going to take a tremendous educational effort in this entire area — the scientific community and folks who eat rice must be on the same page.

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