The farmer and the GMO rice

A different response to engineered food over the pond

March 12, 2009

Over on The Ethicurean, rice farmer Greg Massa recounts his battle several years ago to prevent a biotech company, Ventria, from planting genetically modified rice in California.

What exactly was Massa fighting?

Ventria had inserted human DNA into rice, thereby making the rice produce two proteins found in human breast milk, tears, and saliva. Their plan was to grow and harvest the rice, and then extract the proteins from the grains. [See the San Francisco Chronicle story about it.] The proteins would then be used in anti-diarrheal medicines.

As Massa explains, he fought the GMO rice in part to protect his own livelihood and that of other California rice growers, because he worried that eventually their rice would be contaminated and a $500 million industry would be put at risk:

You see, the problem is that there is no way to contain the genes that get inserted into a GMO crop plant. Through nature’s mechanisms of cross pollination and seed dispersal, or simply through human error, the genes spread. They can contaminate food crops with things you don’t want in food — say, for example, human saliva proteins masquerading as anti-diarrheal drugs.

Recently, Massa writes, he traveled to Germany to speak about GMOs, and while he was there, he saw firsthand the difference in how Germans vigorously fight GMOs as compared to Americans, who barely take note of them:

I’m a California rice farmer, but recently in Germany I was a rock star.

(Want to read more Massa? Last summer, in advance of Slow Food Nation, he blogged a little on Culinate about farming rice.)

Related post: The dirty secret of organic seeds

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