What's For Dinner? Mutant Rice

The FDA retroactively approved a strain of genetically modified rice that infiltrated our supermarkets after escaping from a 2001 experiment. Six years ago, Avenits Crop Science introduced Liberty Link, a transgenic rice strain resistant to Liberty, an Aventis weed killer. The Liberty Link experiment ended abruptly when StarLink – a transgenic corn strain made by Aventis that was approved only for use in animal feed, not for human consumption – was found in Kraft taco shells. The ensuing public relations disaster led to Aventis’ sale to the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, which immediately discontinued Liberty Link’s production. Yet somehow, the transgenic rice survived…

In 2006, Liberty Link inexplicably appeared in the five rice-grown southern states: Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Mississippi, and Louisiana, affecting little-known, but widely used rice strains like Chenier and Clearfield. The mutant rice quickly infiltrated our supermarkets appearing in products like Uncle Ben’s, Rice Krispies, Gerber, and Budweiser.

Rather than issue a monumental recall, last November the FDA retroactively approved Liberty Link for human consumption. Their reasoning? The mutant rice was similar to mutant corn and canola that hadn’t yet harmed American consumers.

Then again, the experts also have dismissed repeated warnings that genetically modified crops can’t be managed or controlled. When organic farmers worried that their fields could be invaded by genetically modified plants grown nearby, regulators told them there was nothing to fear. The biotech industry promised that experimental, gene-altered plants could be grown in open fields and never, ever end up in the neighborhood Safeway.

There is no law requiring producers to disclose the use genetically modified ingredients. For anyone wondering what the future of American food recalls might look like, this is your glimpse. Bon appetite.

Attack of the mutant rice [Fortune]
(Photo: IRRI Images)