Friday’s announcement that some samples of U.S. long-grain rice contain a genetically modified ingredient was met with a collective yawn, even from groups typically eager to complain about scientists’ so-called “contamination” of our food supply. Compared to the media-driven agricultural apocalypse following the 2000 discovery of biotech corn in U.S. taco shells, the public reaction to a few sticky grains of lab-enhanced rice has been downright measured. The U.S. Agriculture Secretary assured the press Friday that “there are no human health, food safety or environmental concerns associated with this [biotech] rice.” Could it be that activists’ repeated cries of “wolf” — combined with no real evidence of harm — have given us all some much-needed perspective?
While the Center for Science in the Public Interest complained to The Washington Post about the lack of government oversight of crop science, the group conceded that “there is no safety risk.” And the Union of Concerned Scientists called the finding “alarming,” but offered the Post none of the expected bluster about food safety. Neither Friends of the Earth nor the Organic Consumers Association has (yet) insisted that General Tso’s chicken should henceforth be served with a Geiger counter.
The only meaningful blip on the food-safety radar came from Japan, which has announced a trade embargo on U.S. long-grain rice — which the Japanese Health Ministry said hasn’t been imported this year anyway.
Greenpeace is the only major environmental group agitating for a global over-reaction to this biotech rice protein, calling for a ban on European rice imports from the U.S. The notoriously risk-averse European Union says it’s treating the issue “as a matter of the utmost urgency.” But The New York Times notes this morning that both Europe and Japan have already approved “the same genetically engineered protein” in other crops, including canola and cotton.