The long awaited APHIS report on the LibertyLink contamination issue in rice has finally been released. It is not surprising that the report did not define how the contamination occurred, and that APHIS took no enforcement action against anyone.
Some in the press have taken issue with this finding. I have said from the beginning that when the dust settled that nobody may have been at fault.
There is a protocol in place for developing GMO technology in the United States. It may well be that that some of the procedures and guidelines may need modifying. Nevertheless, there is a protocol and without it, there would be no Roundup Ready technology, no Bt technology and the list could go on.
LibertyLink rice was (and is) being developed using the protocol in place. It is entirely possible that the contamination occurred with the protocol being followed.
It has been a few years since I did any research with genetically modified crops while they were in the developmental stages. Perhaps the procedures have changed some, but likely not a lot.
When I worked with Roundup Ready soybeans, cotton or rice and LibertyLink soybeans and rice in the developmental stages, the seed were delivered at some point. Once those seed were in my possession, the APHIS guidelines in place for that crop at that time had to be followed.
Some of those included how far the crop had to be isolated from a conventional like crop, whether or not the crop could be harvested, how it had to be destroyed, what was done with the leftover seed, and what crop if any could be grown in the area the following year or years.
All we could do was follow protocol to the best of our ability and APHIS routinely inspected the plots to make sure we did so.
The development of technology is an evolving process. Sometimes the best knowledge available at the time changes with further research.
Several individuals have commented on various statements contained in the APHIS report. The statement that I picked up on the most was the one regarding the isolation distances and the fact they may need to be increased in the future.
I am certainly not issuing my own report of what happened because I have no direct knowledge. However, since APHIS failed to issue any definitive finding, it could have simply been the isolation distance guidelines were not far enough. What was understood about pollen movement in rice at the time the APHIS guidelines were written and what is understood now is different.
Everybody can have his own opinion as to whether someone should have known better of if someone is at fault. However, what needs to happen now is for the rice industry to put this issue behind, and move forward.
To date, all of our rice has tested negative for LibertyLink proteins. I continue to hear encouraging predictions about rice prices. If prices continue to strengthen and rice gets in line with other crops on profit potential, I predict the LibertyLink issue will pretty much be forgotten.
Hopefully, whatever happens with the lawsuits will happen quickly because this is another key to the industry moving forward. I have written for a couple of weeks about weed resistance and the need for new technology. LibertyLink rice is weed control technology superior to anything currently available or anything this weed scientist sees on the horizon. This side of the story is seldom told.
It is unfortunate that the contamination issue happened; the rice industry did not need that. It will be easy to sit back now and say, “We have this issue behind us,” and treat GMO technology like a two-headed monster.
I believe the biggest issue facing the rice industry is not keeping genetically modified proteins out of the crop but rather how to bring genetically modified rice technology forward with our customer base.
I am not full of bright ideas, but I know that technology must move forward in all aspects of rice production. Hopefully the contamination issue is truly in the past and we can continue to move forward with technology development (including LibertyLink) and at the same time keep our customers happy.