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Greenpeace biting off more than it can chew, er, drink?

Greenpeace. The word strikes fear into the hearts of farmers and others concerned they might become the butt of one of the environmental group's publicity stunts.

Since its founding in 1971, Greenpeace has confronted whaling vessels on the high seas, painted signs such as “smoking kills” on smoke stacks and staged protests at economic forums, enriching its coffers while accomplishing little environmental benefit.

The organization may have finally met its match, however, when it accused Anheuser-Busch of using a genetically engineered strain of rice to make its Budweiser beer. The St. Louis-based concern apparently isn't having any of it, strongly hinting in a letter that it will take legal action.

On Oct. 8, Greenpeace sent an e-mail to media outlets, saying it had released the results of analyses showing the presence of an experimental genetically engineered strain of rice at an Anheuser-Busch-operated mill in Arkansas.

The e-mail said the GE rice, LLRICE601, was the source of contamination of at least 30 percent of rice stocks in the United States. (Asked about the latter, Greenpeace cited a Nov. 4, 2006, report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that said 32 percent of some 700 long-grain samples tested positive for LibertyLink traits.)

“Anheuser-Busch must make a clear statement about the level of GE contamination of the rice used to brew Budweiser in the U.S. and spell out what measures are in place to ensure this beer does not reach the company's exports markets,” the e-mail said.

The company fired back a letter that day, saying it had informed Greenpeace representatives that Anheuser-Busch uses only medium-grain rice for its beer brewed in the United States and exported to Europe. “As you know, there is no GE rice in U.S. medium-grain rice,” said Joseph F. Jedlicka, Anheuser-Busch's vice president of legal affairs.

Jedlicka also noted the GE rice, LLRICE601, has been fully sanctioned by the U.S. government and determined by the latter to “be perfectly safe for human consumption and the environment. Moreover, you are aware that the amount of GE rice in the U.S. long-grain supply is only at barely trace amounts (6 grains out of every 10,000).

“Despite your knowledge, Greenpeace made representations on its Web site and in a press release falsely implying that Budweiser exported to Europe contains GE rice and that more than 30 percent of the U.S. rice supply is contaminated with GE rice. Each of these assertions is misleading, false and defamatory.”

In a subsequent e-mail, Greenpeace denied the charges and repeated claims the experimental strain of GE rice had been found in beer brewed in the United States. “We are disappointed Anheuser-Busch didn't simply come clean and join other major brewing concerns, like Heineken, that have gone GE-free,” a spokesman said. “Anheuser-Busch's threat of legal action is no way to address the public concerns raised by Greenpeace.”

We suspect the rice producers who supply Anheuser-Busch's brewery near Jonesboro and its customers couldn't disagree more.

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