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California

Biotech Rice Plans Are Stalled

April 10, 2004|From Associated Press

State regulators Friday derailed a small biotechnology company's ambitious plans to immediately begin growing commercial quantities of rice engineered with human genetic material for use in medicine.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture denied Ventria Bioscience's application to grow more than 120 acres of rice in Central and Southern California because federal regulators haven't issued a permit. The Sacramento-based company said it had not yet applied for federal regulatory approval.

State officials also said the public needed more time to comment on an issue that had roiled California's $500-million rice industry. Many rice farmers fear consumer perception will turn against their crops and cost them customers in biotechnology-adverse Europe and Japan if Ventria's permit were granted.

Now Ventria, which already has permission to grow experimentally on small plots, will have to wait at least until next year's planting to expand production.

Despite the regulatory setback and continued vocal opposition, Ventria Chief Executive Scott Deeter said Friday that the company would reapply in California.

The human genes that Ventria inserts into its rice produce proteins that are found in mother's milk, tears and saliva and can combat diarrhea and anemia, Deeter said.

Ventria has been growing genetically engineered rice on 120 acres in Northern California on an experimental basis since it received U.S. Department of Agricultural permits in 1997.

On Monday, the USDA refused to renew that permit for this year, saying the company planned to grow its experimental rice too close to crops intended for human consumption.

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