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California Law Pins Some Segregation Costs to Biotech Seeds

(6 September - Cropchoice News) -- California is about to enact a new law that will place a charge on sales of biotech rice varieties. The fee would cover the cost of enforcing segregation standards if GMO rice comes onto the market. California's biotech-pays approach is a reversal of the way things are done in corn and soybeans. It places some segregation costs on biotech seed, instead of saddling producers of conventional varieties with all of the segregation headaches.

The law has passed both parts of the state legislature and is awaiting signature by the governor. Under the measure, a fee of up to $5 per hundredweight of seed (about an extra $8 per acre) would be levied on seed retailers who sell rice varieties with "characteristics of commercial impact".

The law doesn't mention biotech specifically; but the text of the bill says the legislative intent includes "maintain[ing] consumer confidence and acceptance" of California rice and "minimiz[ing] the potential for the commingling of various types of rice."

Biotech seed giant Aventis (maker of Liberty) is up in arms about the Republican-sponsored text, telling the Sacramento Bee that the bill characterizes biotech varieties as "bad rice". Monsanto and Novartis are also working on GMO rice.

Supporters of the bill respond that Aventis doesn't understand grower priorities. According to Tim Johnson of the California Rice Commission, "there are some varieties that are appropriate to be kept separate" and, contrary to what Aventis is suggesting to the media, the association isn't against biotech. It wants to protect markets

In particular, rice growers want to protect important Asian export markets. It has been an uphill struggle to get California rice - 40% of the crop is exported - into Asia, especially Japan. With strong Japanese consumer opposition to biotech and GMO labels required by next year, poor segregation of biotech rice could damage California's Japanese market. If buyers are worried about biotech rice contamination, it could be enough to push the Japanese, and possibly others, into the arms of other rice exporters.

The California growers may be looking to the ominous precedent from Hawaii. There, fruit growers who planted a virus-resistant GMO papaya have seen their Japanese market shut down, while premiums for traditional varieties have skyrocketed.

Click here to see the text of the bill or here to visit the California Rice Commission's website.

Source: California Assembly Bill 2622, Sacramento Bee