Region 8 Farmers Still Affected By Contaminated Rice

CRAIGHEAD COUNTY, AR (KAIT)- Craighead County extension agent Steve Culp says when foreign markets suspended trade with U.S. farmers in 2006 because of experimental rice being released into the food supply, it lessened the price of rice and put a burden on Region 8 farmers.

"We've gone full circle since that," said Culp. "The state plant board put up a system in place to purge this out of the system."

A momentary relief for farmers like David Watkins, whose livelihood depends on making sure his rice crops are free of what are called genetically modified organisms.

A type of strain that led to a temporary ban of U.S. rice imports into some foreign countries.

"We couldn't grow certain types of seed that we liked, that yielded better for us," said Watkins.

He says they're still having to test to make sure their crops are free of genetically modified seeds.

"You have to have it tested before you plant it, you have to have it tested before you harvest it and you have to take that proof to the mill or storage facility," he said.

But, in this case, when you say contamination the reality might not be what you've pictured.

Culp says everyday food products like canola oil and cotton oil contain derivatives of GMO's that led to the rice import ban.

"We have a lot of opportunity to do a lot of things with GMO's that we don't with regular crops. It's not a safety issue and it never has been."

Some farmers are fighting to have their losses paid for by the company responsible for the accidental relase of experimental rice.

That company is Bayer CropScience.

Culp says he doesn't know what the implications of that would be.

"At least we're enjoying high rice prices. We just wish input costs were less, like fuel. Because right now they're pretty astronomical."

U.S. Judge Catherine Perry heard arguments Thursday about the case. She made no ruling, but if she grants the suit class-action status, it could have potentially enormous implications for the biotech seed industry. Every major biotech seed company grows experimental biotech crops outdoors. The U.S. rice farmers say the company should be held liable for any economic losses on global grain markets if experimental strains escape and crimp export markets.

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