Genetically-engineered crops may help feed the world. But people who choose not to consume what alarmists call Frankenfoods should not be forced to eat them. So the ability of the government to regulate and industry to manage genetically-modified crops matters. It matters a lot.
Unhappily, there’s reason to believe that neither the government nor the industry is up to the job.
If you doubt it, consider the strange saga of an experimental strain of genetically-engineered rice that somehow escaped from a test plot and found its way into the food supply before it was approved for human consumption. Settling the subsequent lawsuits will cost agricultural giant Bayer CropScience a whopping $750 million, the company said in July. The rice, meanwhile, has been withdrawn from the market and has not produced a dime of revenue for the company. It hasn’t fed anyone except battalions of lawyers.
I first came across the rice story in 2007, and wrote a story for FORTUNE headlined Attack of the Mutant Rice. I had a great time reporting the story, visiting rice farmers in Stuttgart, Arkansas (“The Rice and Duck Capital of the World”) where the nation’s two biggest rice mills are located and learning what I could about the regulation of GMOs. [click to continue…]