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Science should prevail over ‘lawyer talk’

As I write this column, I am preparing to leave for the Rice Outlook Conference. I always enjoy this meeting because it is a change of pace from my normal weed science meetings. I can see and be seen without having a lot of responsibilities.

Much of this year’s meeting will focus on purging our rice supply of the LibertyLink traits. There is a plan, and if everyone gets on board, it should purge existing Cheniere from the system while allowing the increase of Cheniere seed stocks that have tested negative for LL traits.

I will write about the details of the program after it is presented in full at the outlook conference.

It was recently announced that USDA granted approval for the LLRice601 trait. The announcement stated that APHIS deregulated two similar rice lines — LLRice62 and LLRice06 — in 1999 after thorough safety evaluations, and is extending its deregulation from the original two lines to include LLRice601. It further stated the protein had been scientifically reviewed and approved for use in a dozen countries around the world.

As I have stated before, this is a political issue (primarily with the EU), not a scientific issue.

It is frustrating as a scientist to see the LLRice issue presented in some circles, especially in “lawyer talk” in the newspapers, as being some sort of ghastly event for which Bayer CropScience should be tarred and feathered for ever dreaming up. It is a scientifically sound technology, approved by USDA.

There are established scientific procedures to be followed for developing biotechnology in crops. There is an APHIS investigation under way to see how the LL601 trait (which was not approved at the time) got into the rice supply.

After this investigation is complete, I am confident the right things will be done. If somebody is owed money and somebody owes money, that will all be sorted out.

I am not on anyone’s side on the money issue, but I hate to see that battle fought in the newspapers. That only serves to divide our industry. Farmers, millers and the companies that provide new technology all need each other. That is the reason I keep saying that level heads need to prevail.

I am all for purging the LL601 from our rice supply to fix a short-term problem. The bigger picture is where the industry is going with biotechnology in rice. LibertyLink rice is only one example. It does happen to be one that is deregulated and could already be in the marketplace.

In order for our industry to continue to move forward, technology must move forward. I strongly believe that much of the new technology development will be in the area of biotechnology.

Currently, the LibertyLink technology is clearly superior to existing weed control technology. In the future there will be many other examples outside the area of weed science.

I hear it said, “When the value of a trait to a farmer is greater than any negative effect on the market, the technology will go forward.” My concern is how long politics will prevail over science in the development of technology. If a small (but important) segment of the market continues to delay the implementation of new technology in our country, we could find ourselves behind the rest of the world.

If individuals are owed money over this particular issue, so be it. However, if the issue kills the technology, I will some day we will wish we had it back.

It could also serve to discourage others in the public and private sectors from developing new technology.

I believe if level heads prevail, the right things will be done. Even if some of this has to be done in the courtroom, the last thing we need is for our industry to be divided by lawyer talk in the newspapers.

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