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Rice Federation, seedsmen disagree over LL testing plan

The rice seed industry has voted against a USA Rice Federation seed plan recommendation that seedsmen provide purchasers of planting seed with a certificate stating that the seed is biotech-free. The vote took place at a meeting of the certified rice seed channel on Dec. 15 in Memphis to address the LL rice issue.

Instead of certification, the rice seed industry recommended that a document showing a negative test result for the LL trait be provided to the mill or first point of delivery prior to harvest of the crop.

The seedsmen's recommendation was subsequently rejected by the USA Rice Federation on Dec. 19, according to Michael Hensgens, G&H Seed, who was appointed as the seed channel representative for the federation on the LL rice issue.

When asked about its decision, the USA Rice Federation responded with the following statement, “All segments of the U.S. rice industry must work together to resolve the Liberty Link (LL) issue. First and foremost, our common goal must be to restore customer confidence and market stability.

“The USA Rice Federation seed plan responds to market demands from regulatory agencies and consumers around the world. If the industry does not act decisively and in unison to resolve the Liberty Link issue, the U.S. rice industry will find itself in the unenviable position of producing a product world customers will not buy. Many allied businesses and a wide range of local economies depend on a viable U.S. rice industry.”

Unless there are further discussions between the seedsmen and the USA Rice Federation, it is now up to each state to develop a protocol for testing for the presence of the LL trait in rice seed and deciding who should receive the subsequent documentation of the results.

Hensgens said the Louisiana rice industry is working with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture on a proposed plan, “where the state will pull the certified seed samples for the seed dealers, send the samples to the testing lab and provide the document to the first point of delivery.”

Hensgens said that if the document goes directly from the seed retailer to the producer, “it becomes a warranty to the producer, which is not something that is required by seed law, nor is it insurable by any seed conditioner's insurance agency. Seedsmen's insurability is governed by the state and federal seed laws and genetic purity is not one of them.

“It's not that we can't win the claim. But we may spend exorbitant amounts of money settling claims because it costs so much to defend them. You can win the battle but lose the war if you go out of business.”

Randy Ouzts, general manager of Horizon Ag LLC, says, “At this time, we don't have laws that make the seedsmen warrant for the absence of any kind of GM presence. While we all realize that testing may be legally required due to the gravity of this situation, there is currently no protection available to seedsmen from downstream problems should something happen with a grower's crop. If any laws are made (to require a warranty related to GM presence), you will see quite a few seedsmen not sell seed this season. It is simply too risky for most.”

Ouzts says the rice seed industry is close to the point where each day the issue is not resolved results in a percentage of seed unavailable for planting in 2007.

Hensgens says the rice seed industry supports all other recommendations of the rice industry's plan to remove the LL trait from the market.

According to Hensgens, the two most important components of the federation seed plan to remove rice with the LL trait from the seed supply are for producers to not plant Cheniere in 2007 and to extend some type of regulatory authority to farm-saved seed.

“The certified seed channel has a history and record of the field seed is planted in and makes field and equipment inspections. Records are audited and all processes are monitored. You don't have that on-farm. We are a state-regulated channel, they are not.”

So far, tests show that genetically engineered strains LL601 and LL62, which are not approved for export to some countries, are present only in Cheniere.

In a position statement, seedsmen did not address a stipulation of the federation seed plan to test for the LL trait at the 0.01 level, equivalent to finding a single genetically-engineered seed in a sample of 30,000. (This is the same level used by the European Union.)

Terry Gray, a rice producer and seed wholesaler and retailer from Delaplaine, Ark., was concerned about a hypothetical analysis presented at the Memphis meeting that indicated if seed is tested at 0.01, as much as 25 percent of so-called good seed might (test positive).

“You've already lost Cheniere, now you stand to lose some more rice seed. At 0.01 are you even going to have enough seed to plant the long-grain crop in 2007?

“But I understand how the other side feels,” Gray said. “The people who do business with the Europeans have got to do whatever they can to keep this business package. A lot of it's brown rice. You know you're going to get your money. The margin's good and they can't afford to lose the business, so they want to do everything they can to get it back.

“The federation and the seed dealers have got to sit down and come to some kind of agreement. I perceive the seed dealers' position statement as being a message to sit back down at the table and renegotiate.”

Chet Boruff, chief executive officer of the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies, Moline, Ill., said the reason behind testing all rice seed varieties, as proposed by the Rice Federation, “would be to address mechanical mixing, where some whole kernels from Cheniere that contains the LL trait might get into seed lots of other varieties. This can occur anywhere in the processing chain at the seedsmen level. But we have approved conditioners that have good protocols in place, so the likelihood of mechanical mixing is minimal.”

Boruff said the biggest threat is from farm-saved seed, where sampling protocols were still vague at the time of this writing.

He also said that testing agencies would only present a document detailing a sample's chain of custody and the results of the testing. “We would provide that documentation in the form of a letter. But it's not a certificate, it's a third party documentation.”

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