Thursday, September 21, 2006

Whose fault is this?

All modern industrial farmers who think their interests are being well represented by the ag biotech industry's anti-regulatory lobbying machine should read the Washington Post today. Is there nobody in the industry who wishes their lobbyists had been frank in acknowledging the more severe regulatory framework that would have been required to keep biotech genes from being released into the crop at large?
The disclosure last month that American long-grain rice has become widely contaminated with traces of an experimental, gene-altered rice has provoked an economic crisis for farmers and reignited a long-smoldering debate over the adequacy of U.S. oversight of biotech food.

Already, Japan has banned U.S. long-grain imports, noting, as have other countries, that the genetically altered variety never passed regulatory muster. Stores in Germany, Switzerland and France have pulled American rice off their shelves. And at least one ship last week remained quarantined in Rotterdam, awaiting word of whether its contents would be diverted or destroyed."

Until this happened, it looked like rice farmers were finally going to make a profit this year," said Greg Yielding, executive director of the Arkansas Rice Growers Association. Instead, U.S. rice prices have slumped about 10 percent, and some expect market losses to reach $150 million.
It reminds me of the beef industry, whose hired guns "protected" the industry until December, 2003, from mild feed price increases that would have accompanied rules and prohibitions on certain kinds of animal feed to prevent "Mad Cow Disease." Surely some beef farmers are now asking why their hired guns didn't protect their exports from this (link to ERS report; the bottom line in this somewhat blurry reproduction shows beef export volume over time):

6 comments:

Mark said...

Hmmm, I think something's gotten scrambled in the translation. Anti-GM spin doctors hyping some minor Japanese technical ruling that really has no meaning?

I have *never* seen U.S. long grain rice in Japan, and it's not for lack of looking. I'd love to be able to make Mexican rice dishes if I could find it. As far as I know, they've never really allowed foreign rice into the country. It's almost considered a matter of national (food) security. They finally caved in on oranges, but not rice.

There was a big controversy a while back about loopholes for prepared food products that included rice, such as premade frozen sushi from Southeast Asia and premade bento lunch boxes from California.

Many years ago there was a domestic rice shortage due to bad weather, and they allowed Thai rice to come in. I got a big bag of it at Costco in Chiba.

Of course, the news shows were full of xenophobic reports of bugs in the Thai rice and other atrocities, and everyone was relieved when honest-to-god Japnaese rice again became available.

Bottom line: Huge market loss for U.S. farmers due to GM contamination? Not in Japan. There never was a market.

TJIT said...

Park,

You said

"It reminds me of the beef industry, whose hired guns "protected" the industry until December, 2003, from mild feed price increases that would have accompanied rules and prohibitions on certain kinds of animal feed to prevent "Mad Cow Disease.""


Per your linked paper feed regulations designed to prevent BSE (mad cow disease) were adopted in 1997. This was six years before 2003 BSE case

These regulations were strongly supported and implemented with the assistance of the beef industry. The beef industry "hired guns" were assisting in the passage of regulations not opposing them

All of the BSE cases to date were from animals that were born before the new feed regulations were implemented.

Given this set of facts it appears that the rules designed to prevent BSE that were put in place in 1997 have been very effective in preventing BSE.

Could you let me know what feed regulations the beef industries hired guns were opposing prior to the 2003 BSE case?

Thanks,

TJIT

Parke Wilde said...

Hi tjit and Mark. Thanks for reading!

tjit asked, "Could you let me know what feed regulations the beef industries hired guns were opposing prior to the 2003 BSE case?"

What a nice specific question! Before the U.S. mad cow of December, 2003, the beef industry hired guns opposed regulations to: (1) ban specified risk materials including brain and nervous tissue in animals over 30 months of age, (2) strictly regulate advanced meet recovery in younger animals, (3) ban downer cattle from the human food supply, (4) prevent a dangerous cycle where prohibited beef tissue is fed to other animals, which are then killed and fed back to cows. According to footnote 4 in the ERS report, all of these rules were passed after January, 2004.

As for Mark, did you agree with the rest of the Post article other than the fairly minor quibble about long-grain rice exports to Japan? Japan is after all a major rice importer, and the U.S. is a major rice exporter. Anyway, even if I can't win your agreement on that, you will certainly have to make plans to enjoy a nice meal of American beef and long-grain rice next time you are stateside, since you can't get them in Japan. Perhaps a Mexican-American place I know.

TJIT said...

Parke,

Thanks for the reply and sorry about misspelling your name earlier.

Mark may be out of luck getting US rice but US beef exports to Japan are ramping up and he should be able to find US beef in Japan before too long.

Cheers,

TJIT

Mark said...

"Japan is after all a major rice importer."

What do they use it for? It's not in the markets.

In addition to the unavailability of long grain rice, every single bag of short grain rice in Japanese markets that I have seen in Tokyo and Chiba are branded with Japanese terroir names like Koshihikari or Akitakomachi.

Maybe they just buy it to placate the Americans, and then they send it off to Africa as foreign aid.

As for GM food, I guess I just can't get excited about an insufficient regulatory framework, when the only reason for the regulation in the first place is to pander to Luddites and protectionists. There's no evidence that there's any problem. What's wrong with the rice? Are toxins showing up in lab tests, on the actual rice? Of course not.

There's nothing wrong with the rice, other countries will come around eventually, and in the meantime the United States will have solidified its position as the technological leader in this important new area.

Parke Wilde said...

Regarding Japanese rice, this UNCTAD website does seem to agree with Mark's account -- rice imports to placate international trade partners, storage for a year or so, and disposal through food aid. I hadn't known this till Mark prompted me to look harder.

http://r0.unctad.org/infocomm/

As for GM in general, some of the most commercially promising technologies are specifically designed to trick the crops to produce insecticidal toxins. That may be good or bad. In either case, the technology has no political future if the industry continues to mislead the public about the strength of the regulatory regimen that would be required to keep test genes from escaping into the current crop population. Call me paranoid, but I simply am not happy feeding my family genetically modified rice that food safety authorities specifically forbade from introduction into the human food supply, and that the industry solemnly promised would not enter the food supply.