California regulators derail biotech company's rice plans

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 11, 2004 (CropChoice news: Paul Elias, AP, 04/09/04): State regulators on Friday derailed a small biotechnology company's plans to begin immediately growing commercial quantities of rice engineered with human genetic material.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture denied Ventria Bioscience's application to grow more than 120 acres of rice in Southern California because federal regulators haven't issued a permit.

Ventria scientists have spliced human genes into the rice genome. The resulting proteins show up in rice seeds, which are milled into powder to make an over-the-counter medicine to treat diarrhea and anemia.

State officials also said the public needs more time to comment on an issue that has roiled the $500 million-a-year California rice industry.

Many rice farmers worry that customers in biotechnology-adverse Europe and Japan, fearing contamination, will turn against their food crops if Sacramento-based Ventria gets a permit for wider production.

Ventria, which has permission to grow experimentally on small plots, now must wait at least until next year to expand production in California.

Ventria chief executive Scott Deeter said Friday the company would reapply in California, while also exploring options in Hawaii and the South.

He said the company intends to apply next year for a federal permit to expand its operations. The company hopes to sell its pharmaceutical rice product as early as 2006.


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