Late April 15, it was announced that Ventria Bioscience would move its pharmaceutical rice 120 miles from the nearest Bootheel rice field. As a result, Anheuser-Busch officials agreed to continue purchasing rice grown and processed in Missouri.

Ventria, a small biotech company, recently moved from California to Missouri, where it plans to grow 150 acres of two rice varieties containing human genes. Until the latest announcement, the nearest food-grade rice field would have been 7 miles distant. Such proximity led to fears of cross-contamination through flooding, birds, insects or human error. Contamination is a concern because the Federal Drug Administration has yet to approve any pharmaceutical crop for human consumption.

Since Ventria's intentions were revealed late last year, rice farmers in the Bootheel have expressed concerns that markets would react negatively. Those concerns were realized when, on April 7, in a meeting with Missouri Department of Agriculture officials, Busch executives said if Ventria's plans went forward, the beer giant would no longer purchase rice grown or processed in the state. Busch is the largest domestic rice consumer.

On the news of Ventria's move away from the Bootheel, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt said, “This compromise represents a huge step forward for the Missouri life sciences industry, value-added agriculture, and the important humanitarian goal of improving the health of children. It is imperative our state has an environment that encourages the biotechnology industry and value-added agriculture opportunities, which will help sustain Missouri's economy for generations to come…

“I am pleased that Anheuser-Busch and Ventria have reached a fair compromise that furthers cutting-edge life-sciences technology while protecting current markets for Missouri rice farmers. Biotech companies from around the country, if not the world, are watching our state today, and this agreement sends a clear message that Missouri is a great place for technology.”


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com