|Posted on Thu, Apr. 28,
SUMMARY and LINK:
Ventria won't try to grow modified rice in Missouri
WASHINGTON - Ventria Bioscience is giving up plans to
grow genetically modified rice in Missouri this year,
saying the company can't get a permit from federal regulators
in time for the growing season.
Scott Deeter, president of the Sacramento, Calif.-based
company, said Thursday that he still remains committed
to growing the rice in Missouri next year if the U.S.
Agriculture Department issues a permit.
Ventria has been trying to gain approval to grow about
200 acres of genetically engineered rice to produce
human proteins that could be used in drugs. Plans to
grow the rice in southeast Missouri were scuttled this
month after Anheuser-Busch Cos. threatened to boycott
the state's rice crop over concerns the modified rice
could contaminate edible rice grown nearby.
Ventria agreed April 15 to find a site at least 120
miles from commercial growing areas and Anheuser-Busch
dropped its boycott threat.
However, Ventria hasn't yet filed its revised request
for a permit and getting one from the Agriculture Department
takes at least 30 days. Ventria must plant rice by May
20 to have enough time for the 155-day growing cycle.
"My expectation is that the USDA's regulatory
process doesn't have enough flexibility to accommodate
our May 20 date," Deeter said in a telephone interview.
He said the company was still considering several locations
in the northwest and northeast parts of the state. Ventria
plans to grow regular rice in Missouri this year to
develop plant varieties for future use, he said.
"We're very excited about our future in Missouri,"
Ventria wants to grow rice enhanced with synthetic
human genes to produce the proteins lactoferrin and
lysozyme, which it would harvest and refine for use
in medicines to fight diarrhea and dehydration.
In November, Northwest Missouri State University and
Ventria agreed to make the company the anchor of a proposed
Center of Excellence for plant-made pharmaceuticals
on the university's campus in Maryville. Ventria plans
to move its headquarters to Missouri.
Last week, Gov. Matt Blunt called Agriculture Secretary
Mike Johanns to find out if the agency could expedite
Ventria's permit request.
But Karen Eggert, a spokeswoman for the department
that oversees permits, said the agency has no system
for placing permit requests on a fast track.
"Each permit has to go through a process and we
wouldn't make exceptions to move someone through more
quickly or skip steps or anything like that," Eggert
Several environmental groups sent a letter to Johanns
on Thursday urging him not to be pressured into rushing
any new permit process.
"Fast tracking a decision is unacceptable in light
of the risks and would certainly undermine USDA's credibility,
both here and abroad," said Joe Mendelson, legal
director of the watchdog group Center for Food Safety.
Environmental groups, food companies and farmers oppose
Ventria's efforts to grow modified rice in the state,
arguing that the rice could cross-pollinate with other
food crops, introducing the foreign genes into the regular
Bill Freese, a spokesman for the environmental group
Friends of the Earth, said he considered Ventria's decision
a victory for opponents of genetically engineered rice.
"There's all this talk about a compromise, but
look what's happened," Freese said. "The bottom
line is: It's not happening in Missouri."
Meanwhile, Ventria filed new permit applications Thursday
with the USDA to grow genetically engineered rice on
70 acres in eastern North Carolina. The company already
has a permit to grow its rice on five acres in that
Deeter also said his company plans to grow genetically
modified rice in South America and Puerto Rico this
year to make up for its inability to grow in Missouri.