Topeka Rice has never sounded so threatening.
On Wednesday, rice farmers from California and Arkansas, Washington D.C.-based scientists and state agriculture groups talked of the dangers of planting a rice crop in Kansas intended for pharmaceutical companies.
In a courtroom at Washburn Law School, an audience of about 30 - a mixture of farmers, food safety advocates and law students - listened.
This spring Ventria Bioscience planted about 200 acres of rice just outside of Junction City. The plant has been genetically altered to contain the human proteins found in breast milk, saliva and tears.
Those proteins are extracted out of the rice and ground into flour to be used in rehydration formula for children suffering from chronic diarrhea. Also, according to a USDA report, the rice product will be used as a supplement in granola bars, yogurts and sports drinks.
The rice was harvested this fall.
Much of Wednesday's discussion was focused on instances where genetically modified crops have ended up unintentionally in the food supply.
Animals, shared machinery and storage bins, high winds and running water can all carry the rice seed from one field to another, scientists and farmers said.
Jane Rissler, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which approves the use of pharmaceutical crops, has a poor track record of conducting inspections and making sure companies comply with its regulations.
"Drugs and outdoor food crops, the nicest thing I can say, it is a bad idea. It is risky business," Rissler said. "There are few benefits, if any, to Kansas farmers. The USDA has not and cannot eliminate the risk. The USDA should ban them."
Contamination or even just the threat of contamination can be costly, out-of-state rice farmers said. Other countries have threatened to stop buying U.S. exports and thousands of bushels of crops have been destroyed when a supply is tainted.
Angela Kreps, the only representative from the bioscience industry at the conference, disagreed with much of what the speakers had to say. Kreps, president of Kansas Bioscience Organization and board member of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, said the two groups back Ventria's proposal.
"It's creating opportunities for farmers in the state. It lets us be part of an emerging industry that is going to save people's lives and in the meantime provides jobs and opportunities for Kansas and diversifies our economy," she said.
Bill Freese, with the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C., said that four of the top five biotechnology companies that have received permits for growing pharmaceutical crops have gone under. He questions whether governments should continue giving millions of dollars in subsidies to draw the companies to their state.