May 16, 2007 / 11:23 PM / 11 years ago

U.S. approves GMO rice to produce human proteins

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. government gave approval on Wednesday for a biotech company to plant rice genetically modified to produce human proteins in Kansas.

Ventria Bioscience of Sacramento, California, can now grow up to 3,200 acres of genetically modified rice in Geary County, Kansas, to produce proteins that would be used in medicine to treat diarrhea.

Ventria plans to grow the rice on only 250 acres, said company president Scott Deeter.

“We have grown it for nine years in North Carolina, California and South America as well,” he said.

The approval by the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) fuels concerns that another GMO crop will contaminate the U.S. food and feed supply.

Last summer, a genetically modified strain of long-grain rice made by Bayer CropScience, a unit of Bayer AG, which had not been cleared for food use, was found in commercial rice bins in Arkansas and Missouri. Several countries, including the European Union, have sharply cut back on U.S. rice purchases following the discovery. USDA has since found LibertyLink safe for food and feed use.

“The U.S. rice industry is still reeling from the release of Bayer CropScience’s genetically engineered LibertyLink rice into U.S. Delta-region rice fields,” USA Rice Producers’ Group Chairman Paul Combs said. “We are living with the effect of unintended events and consequences. This decision will not generate any comfort among U.S. commercial rice growers.”

APHIS received more than 20,000 comments on Ventria’s application, with only 29 groups or individuals supporting the planting of the GMO rice in Kansas.

USDA has a stringent protocol for overseeing genetically modified crops with those made to produce pharmaceuticals regulated by more field inspections and greater distances from traditional food crops, among other requirements.

There is no commercial rice production within 300 miles of Geary County, APHIS said.

“We don’t produce this in an area that produces rice,” Deeter said. “It’s an entirely different production system. We wouldn’t have the situation that LibertyLink had.”

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