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Secret Ingredient

Secret Ingredient

Here’s a dish that’s sure to appeal to consumers: Human Genes ‘n’ Rice!

Come on now – admit it – how many times have you sat down to a bowl of steaming rice and thought, “This would sure go great with some human genes!”

How many? Zero times? I’m with you all the way. In fact, I expect that just about nobody could warm up to the idea of eating a genetically modified (GM) plant that contains human genes.

Here’s the good news: These plants aren’t actually grown for human consumption.

Here’s the bad news: These plants exist, and when the wind blows their seeds, there’s no telling where they might go.

Have your “golden tickets” ready

Earlier this month, the USDA gave Ventria Bioscience (a California biotech company) preliminary approval to plant more than 3,000 acres of rice engineered with human genes that produce proteins found in breast milk. But this rice won’t be sold to consumers – the proteins will be extracted and used for a medication that treats children with diarrhea. And that’s the whole point: Growing the proteins is more efficient and less costly than manufacturing synthetic versions.

In a recent NutraIngredients-USA article titled “GM: A Healthy Debate,” Jess Halliday noted that using genetically modified crops to improve human health might be the “golden ticket” that will finally convince a wary public that tinkering with genes in our food supply is just fine after all. So far, the general public isn’t convinced this tinkering is safe. Ms. Halliday describes our cautious attitude like this: “turning their noses up like petulant toddlers.”

That’s got to be a new low in condescension. Especially given the fact that just a few days later another NutraIngredients-USA article noted that a variety of GM corn had produced liver and kidney toxicity in rats.

If I turn up my nose at potential kidney and liver toxicity, am I behaving like a petulant toddler? I suppose I am if there’s a GM crop that will treat kidney and liver failure.

Show me

If the final USDA approval goes through, Ventria will plant more 450 acres of their Human Genes ‘n’ Rice this spring. That planting will be done in Kansas, but definitely not Missouri. Why not Missouri?

Interesting story.

Ventria originally proposed to plant its crop in the Show Me State, but that didn’t sit well with beer maker Anheuser-Busch, which happens to be the largest rice buyer in the U.S. Anheuser-Busch executives threatened to purchase all their rice outside Missouri if Ventria went forward with the planting, so Ventria took its strange rice to Kansas.

Now why would Anheuser-Busch execs draw a line in the Missouri dirt? Because they were concerned about human-gene rice contaminating the crops that provide rice for their beer. But a line in the dirt (such as the long line that separates Kansas and Missouri) won’t stop a rice crop from wandering.

Long story short: You can’t contain nature, and you can’t keep a plant engineered with human genes neatly contained in a single field.

Just say “NO!”

As I mentioned above, Ventria’s green light for planting their Human Genes ‘n’ Rice is preliminary. If enough people voice their concerns about this Frankenfood, the USDA may be persuaded to step back and tread more carefully before they allow human genes to be grown in a crop that’s typically grown for food.

But here’s the catch: The public comment period for this issue ends tomorrow. So if you’d like to voice your opposition to this human gene “experiment,” the time to speak up is now.

You can get specific information about how to give the USDA a piece of your mind at Michele Cagan’s HSI On the Spot blog, which you’ll find at the link below. Just look for her March 21, 2007, posting, titled “Stop Rice Pharming!!”