When he travels the world, Jerry Lee Bogard sees how other nations raise rice. “It’s vastly different than how we (do it in the United States) and that wasn’t a factor until recently,” said Bogard, who farms in Arkansas’ Grand Prairie and runs Midland Rice, a rice exporting company.

However, data from last year shows some 11 percent to 12 percent of U.S. rice consumption is of imports. What most consumers don’t know is that such rice — “typically long-grain aromatics, Basmati or jasmine” — is often grown in systems tolerant of things unacceptable inside U.S. borders.

“They can use DDT and heavy metal fungicides as regular practices,” said Bogard, who spoke at the Arkansas Rice Growers Association meeting in Brinkley, Ark. “There’s very little inspection or any process where a production model is held accountable. (American farmers, conversely) are held accountable.

“These products come into our country essentially duty-free, tariff-free, VAT-free. And they come in without any sort of credible report function — they go straight to supermarket shelves. And, in most cases, they command about a 30 percent price increase since they’re specialty rice.”

Bogard insists he’s not against free trade.

“We’ve got rice being off-loaded in Ghana today. We’ve also got rice in Nigeria … being sold on the streets of Lagos.”

While for free trade, Bogard is against Congress allowing potentially tainted rice to be imported. Especially grating, he said, is rice farmers overseas using products banned in the United States for the last two or three decades.

“This rice is coming into our markets and being sold to our consumers. That shouldn’t happen.”

Bogard called on the Arkansas Rice Growers Association to push Congress to address the situation. Those importing into U.S. markets should “be able to prove a production standard equal to (that of U.S. farmers). You can’t come in here and feed our folks the highest pesticide residue food content in the world.”

Bogard points to terrorism as another reason to look at imported rice.

“Forget about anthrax. If you wanted to melt this system down, all you have to do is lace these imports with high-density rat poison. Kill a few folks in a high-end restaurant in New York and the food system here would be in a panic… It makes absolutely no sense not to do this. If they want to (import rice), they should adhere to our standards.”

Breeding specialties

With 11 to 12 percent of U.S. rice sales going to specialty rice, Bogard said its time to breed such varieties so they can be grown here.

“It isn’t the breeders’ fault that we don’t have these varieties. Up until a few years ago, these rice varieties were photosensitive. Now, though, there are jasmine varieties that aren’t photosensitive. If we were allowed to have a licensing agreement with countries that have produced those varieties, we could produce the same rice here to sell to our consumers.”

This is another aspect of the current system Bogard wants changed.

“Most of the rice varieties that come out of Thailand, or even India, were developed (with the help of U.S. tax) dollars. Yet, we’re not allowed to license those varieties to be grown here. Our government needs to file a lawsuit on our behalf so we can grow those varieties on our farms.”

Upcoming debate

Bogard also warned of the coming debate in Congress on the proper level of agriculture appropriations.

“As farmers, we cannot afford to keep saying, ‘We deserve (this funding) because we’re the nation’s food security and that’s important.’ Well, it is important — no democracy can survive long with it.”

However, there are “much broader” issues where foreign policy is concerned.

“We’re all sympathetic to the tsunami victims just like we’re sympathetic to the people in Iraq.”

But Bogard isn’t sympathetic towards the UN-based World Food Program (WFP). “We’ve given billions of dollars and no one in our government bothered to tell the WFP they needed to buy the food from us. They’re buying the food from our competitors — that makes them stronger and us weaker. WFP buys from us as a last resort.

“There should be a mandate that said any U.S. food aide money — whether for tsunami victims, Iraq, whatever — should (purchase food from the United States). There should be a legal caveat that said, ‘You buy from us first, not last.’”

Without making such demands and getting results from Congress, said Bogard, “all the other issues we’re debating… won’t matter because we won’t be in business. We have nonsensical trade agreements and a foreign policy in direct conflict with our business every day.”

Following Bogard’s presentation, the following resolution was adopted by the ARGA:

“Currently the only testing done to food crops coming into the U.S. is performed at origin. The phyto-sanitary certificate is a document issued by the plant quarantine office in a county of origin declaring that the grain is free from pests and disease.

“The ARGA urges that additional testing for pesticide and fungicide residue be mandated. Regulations should be put into place that require, for instance, the producer of imported rice comply with the same regulations (of) the U.S. manufacturer.

“Consumers increasingly demand high quality food which is grown and manufactured under strict observance of all international regulations. Imports into the U.S. should not be exempt from these requirements.”

e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com