ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - Last week, Chinese news agencies excitedly reported on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granting approval to an experimental genetically modified rice strain, Huahui-1. USA Rice does not share their excitement and does not want the GM rice to enter the United States.
"'Approval' is not quite the correct word anyway," explained Betsy Ward, USA Rice president and CEO. "The agency simply joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in letting the rice developers at Huazhong Agricultural University know that based on the information the university submitted, they had no follow-up concerns or questions regarding human or animal food that could be derived from this rice."
The rice strain is still banned in China and cannot be cultivated there, and if researchers are looking to grow these GM cultivars here, even in test plots, they should look elsewhere, according to Ward.
"Our position on GM rice has not changed," she said. "While we do not object to sound science, the public overwhelmingly does not want GM rice. Until that changes, we see no need to introduce GM rice into the food supply here."
U.S.-grown rice is proudly marketed here and around the world as GMO free and this presents a clear marketing advantage.
"While GMOs are perfectly safe, the fact that there is no GMO rice in commercial production in the U.S. resonates very strongly with customers, dietitians, and importers around the world," said Cameron Jacobs, USA Rice manager of domestic promotion. "When I'm at a trade show talking with consumers or chefs and I tell them the crop is completely GMO free, their eyes light up. Why would we change that?"
Ward said now that it is clear FDA and EPA have no objections to this rice, it could conceivably be grown somewhere and milled and imported into the U.S. She hopes importers will reject it as potentially damaging to the image of U.S.-grown rice, but admits there is little her organization can do at this point.
"It is Huazhong's continuing responsibility to ensure that foods marketed by Huazhong are safe, wholesome, and in compliance with all applicable legal and regulatory requirements," the FDA letter to the university warns.
"The marketplace does not want GM rice, so neither do we," Ward said. "Consumers can be sure they are getting a GMO-free rice product by purchasing rice that is grown in the USA."
This is taking place against the backdrop of more than a decade of phytosanitary negotiations between the U.S. and China to clear the way for U.S. rice to be exported to China. Those negotiations appeared to be successfully concluded last summer, but continue to drag on.
"It's ironic that that our government has just opened the door to Chinese GMO rice that nobody wants here, while we still cannot send a single grain of healthy, safe, delicious rice to China despite significant interest in the product there," said Ward.