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Rice breeder Linscombe on GM rice troubles

Mid-South rice harvest is at full throttle, demanding attention. Even so, producers have concerns beyond collecting their hard-won grain. The continuing investigation and fallout from GM rice being found in the U.S. supply has ensured that.

One man many will be interested to hear from is Steve Linscombe, LSU AgCenter rice breeder. Linscombe, who works at the Rice Research Station in Crowley, La., is responsible for the release of numerous rice varieties and innovations. He was among the key researchers for the Clearfield technology now employed to fight red rice.

Testing on foundation seed revealed trace amounts of the LibertyLink trait causing market turmoil is in an LSU-developed variety. In an interview with Delta Farm Press, Linscombe addressed that finding, the implications for breeding programs and his hopes for the ongoing APHIS investigation. Among his comments:

Please bring us up to date. What’s the latest news down there?

“We’ve sampled all our seed production as far back as we can. There was one positive result: the 2003 production of Cheniere. We also had 2005 Cheniere that tested negative (for the LibertyLink trait).”

How do you suspect (the LibertyLink trait) got into the 2003 Cheniere?

As for how it happened, anything I say would be pure speculation. I’m sure everyone has heard others talk about various things that could have occurred — a seed mixture, an outcross, or whatever.

At this point, I don’t have an idea how it happened.

What about the breeding side of this? Has the 2003 (Cheniere) been used as a cross for any (upcoming) lines? Will those have to be stopped?

“We did use Cheniere as a parent in a number of our breeding lines. We’ve got a bunch of lines with Cheniere from crosses made a good while back.

“Certainly, before we advance any of these lines that look good in our program we’ll have to sample them to verify they either do, or don’t, have the adventitious (LibertyLink) presence.

“The probability is (the trait) isn’t in the lines. It’s such a low percentage being found.

“When we make crosses, we typically grow a row of a particular parental line. Then, we plant a crossing block made up of a bunch of different parents. Those are planted out seven or eight times throughout the summer to ensure there’s rice heading at different times.

“Doing that extends our crossing season and allows us to match up heading with different maturities and materials…

“The frequency of this adventitious (LibertyLink) presence is very low. That leads me to believe that the chances are that, even if we used the (2003 Cheniere seed), the chances (the trait) was passed on is very low. One out of 80 plants is a low probability.

“However, there is a slight chance it was passed on. We’ll handle that chance by (closely scrutinizing) anything in our breeding program with Cheniere as a parent. Any (such line) that appears good enough to advance to 2007 testing will be tested first.”

Can you address this GM rice issue in a more general sense?

“Like everyone else, I’d like to see the repercussions of this minimized as much as possible… This is an issue to a number of people. It’s certainly an issue for the EU. Whether or not it should be an issue, isn’t (relevant) — we have to deal with it regardless.

“Having said that, when the news about this came out and various entities — mills, farmers, whoever — began testing, the initial findings indicated LibertyLink was in a lot of varieties. Now, I think it’s probably isolated to Cheniere.

“Even though it’s still a bad situation, it’s the best case scenario right now. If we know what it’s in, we can better deal with it.”

Surely you’ve spoken to and fielded a lot of farmers’ calls about this. Can you talk about the typical questions and what you’re telling them?

“The foremost question is ‘how did this happen?’ That’s what you asked me earlier. And, at this point, I just don’t know. I think the ongoing (research) will point us in the right direction.

“We’ve been speaking almost daily with Louisiana millers. They’re trying to get a handle on this too — some of it having to do with discrepancies showing up in some of the sampling procedures. It isn’t my area of expertise, but I’m helping in any way I can.

“We’ve had farmer meetings and we’ll continue those. The main thing we’re trying to do is make everyone aware of what we know and what we don’t know. In a lot of cases, unfortunately, what we don’t know is more than we do…”

Anything else?

“USDA-APHIS has an ongoing investigation trying to determine what happened… to help us prevent this from happening again. (The LSU AgCenter) is fully cooperating with APHIS. We’re doing everything we can to assist them… I believe APHIS is taking a good, systematic approach.

“No one wants to know how this occurred more than we do.

“APHIS has guidelines and protocols for testing (GM) material. We went above and beyond those protocols. Our isolation and distances (in tests) were always more than called for. We tried to eliminate any chance for this to happen.”


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