Carry On My Wayward Gene
Kansas could see first commercial crop of human-gene-containing rice
A California company is one step closer to growing rice that contains human genes on a commercial scale. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has given a preliminary OK to a plan to sow 450 Kansas acres with the stuff this spring, with 2,750 more acres to come. Ventria Bioscience’s three Frankenrice varieties produce human immune-system proteins — and in case this story hasn’t turned your stomach yet, we give you CEO Scott E. Deeter: “We can really help children with diarrhea get better faster.” This big-ag altruism has been rejected by farmers with fears of cross-fertilization in California and Arkansas; in Missouri, rice-buying giant Anheuser Busch blocked Ventria by threatening a boycott of the state’s entire crop. Because no rice is currently grown in Kansas, objections there have been muted, but critics are still speaking up. “This is not a product that everyone would want to consume,” said Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Who gets our vote for understatement of the year.