FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, April 9, 2004
Michael Hansen – 917-774-3801 (cell) or 914-378-2452
Elisa Odabashian – 415-305-7409 (cell) or 415-431-6747
SACRAMENTO, CA – The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) today rejected a request to grant emergency approval for a controversial planting of rice genetically engineered to produce pharmaceutical drugs. Ventria Bioscience had sought fast track approval for the crop after winning initial approval from the California Rice Commission in late March. If the rice crop had been grown, it would have been the first time that a genetically engineered food crop was planted for commercial pharmaceutical production.
“We are pleased that the Agriculture Department denied this application,” said Michael Hansen, PhD, Senior Research Associate with Consumers Union’s Consumer Policy Institute. “There was simply no justification to approve this controversial proposal on a 10-day fast track basis without any opportunity for public discussion or input. This pharmaceutical rice crop raises a raft of serious public health, environmental, and economic concerns.”
Consumers Union had joined with Environment California, Friends of the Earth, Organic Consumers Association, and Sierra Club California in urging the CDFA to reject the fast track request and hold public hearings on the application. In a letter to the Department sent on April 1, the groups noted that if the crop is grown in the open air, public exposure to the drugs in the rice is likely. The health impacts of pharmaceutical rice on people who might be inadvertently exposed to it have not been properly evaluated, but could be serious. The letter also noted that the bacteria-killing properties of the pharmaceutical rice could have negative impacts on beneficial microbes in the environment and wildlife.
In addition, the planting of Ventria’s pharmaceutical rice could have serious negative impacts on California’s rice industry. Any contamination of food rice would lead to a decline or end to rice exports to countries such as Japan and South Korea. And contamination of pure food rice with genes for lactoferrin and lysozyme would result in rice recalls since this would violate U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules. The National Food Processors Association has stated that the “risk of contamination of the food or feed supply is just too great.”
Because of these and many other health, environmental and economic risks, Consumers Union believes that genetic engineering of plants to produce pharmaceuticals and chemicals should be restricted to plants that are not used for food, and should be stringently contained in enclosed facilities like greenhouses. The Union of Concerned Scientists and Center for Food Safety have also sent letters to CDFA urging the agency to reject Ventria’s application.