Lawmakers should keep wild rice wild
There is nothing more refreshing than when science and nature combine in perfect harmony, when technology and old-fashioned values can peacefully co-exist. That's why we believe Rep. Frank Moe's (DFL-Bemidji) recent bill to impose a suspension on...
There is nothing more refreshing than when science and nature combine in perfect harmony, when technology and old-fashioned values can peacefully co-exist. That's why we believe Rep. Frank Moe's (DFL-Bemidji) recent bill to impose a suspension on biologically-altered wild rice is a great idea.
Late last month, Moe proposed a two-year moratorium on genetically-modified wild rice in Minnesota, saying native wild rice must be protected from its bioengineered brethren. He explained wild rice is symbolically and religiously significant to Chippewa (Ojibwe) tribes and should be preserved. Though the Department of Agriculture insists there is a prohibitive cost to genetically engineering wild rice and there are not many parties interested, Moe understands it's easier to prevent trouble than undo damage later on.
White Earth Land Recovery Project leader Winona LaDuke has been fighting wild rice genetic testing for quite a while, and is no stranger to Capitol skeptics. She explained to the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee March 23 how genetically-engineered seeds could drift from test plots, thereby "infecting" native wild rice stands. And once the two mix, they would be almost impossible to separate.
Legislators argued against Moe's bill, saying it will hurt Minnesota's reputation as an ag-centric, science-friendly state. Moe countered he doesn't want a complete ban on all genetic research, but simply more time to study the impact and garner public input.
Since then, the bill has built up steam, adding six authors (including Reps. Brita Sailer and Kent Eken) and was passed by the committee after adding "delete-all" amendments. The bill now requires only the Agriculture and Natural Resources departments examine the need for a study which would encompass any decline in wild rice populations and examine arguments for and against maintaining the genetic integrity of two strains, zizania aquatica and zizania palustris. A companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Becky Lourey (D-Kerrick), is awaiting discussion by the Senate Agriculture, Veterans and Gaming Committee.
We realize how vital agriculture is to Minnesota's economy - and also to the state's heart and soul, which is why we don't want to see the door on genetic modification completely closed. But American Indians are also a strong part of our state, and we need to give them the respect they deserve. In such a fast-paced era of change, isn't it a good idea to keep some things the way they've always been? Don't we want to maintain to the integrity of wild rice, our official state grain? Contrary to what some legislators claim, Minnesota would be sending a positive message by protecting something it claims to hold so dear.
The Ojibwe word for rice is "manomin," whose root word, "mano," means "spirit." Obviously, we're not just discussing a delicious side dish, here - we're deciding the future for a vital part of an entire culture. We owe it to the American Indians, to ourselves and to our children to protect such a treasure.
We'll be keeping tabs on these legislative bills, and hope the movement will build the momentum it needs to keep wild rice wild.