Vol. 6, Issue 6, April 29, 2008
Congress Pledges $40 Billion to Research Rice Alternatives
With Costco restricting rice purchases to 80 pounds per customer per visit, Congress has announced a 10-year, $40 billion initiative for scientists to develop alternatives to rice.
"Rice is absolutely integral to the American lifestyle, and we will not let this looming shortage impact negatively on our citizens' quality of life," said House majority leader Nancy Pelosi. "We have the knowhow to get ahead of this problem, and we intend to ensure that we are prepared when circumstances force even more serious limitations, such as restricting purchases to 40 or even 20 pounds per visit."
According to congressional statistics, Americans use just under 30 pounds of rice per year on average; of this total, approximately 18 pounds are tossed at weddings, and 12 pounds are consumed in the form of Rice Krispies treats.
"Current buying restrictions mean that Americans are only able to purchase about two and a half years of rice per visit to the store," said Pelosi. "We don't have a lot of time to develop alternatives, especially if consumers are too busy to go to the store twice or don't feel like it."
The funding will be spent on a variety of research and development projects, including several involving genetic engineering of other crops to resemble rice more closely.
"We are confident that, with another couple of years, we can produce a soybean that looks nearly identical to rice," said Yolanda Parsons, senior genetic engineer for the Monsanto company. "The trickiest part is getting the right aerodynamic heft so it will still provide a gentle showering sensation for the bride and groom when tossed."
Food scientists at Kellogg's, the principal manufacturer of Rice Krispies, were cautiously optimistic about the proposed legislation, but warned that funding would need to be sustained in order to ensure that R&D ventures would be able to reach completion.
"It has been our experience that other grains simply do not have the ability to match the snappability, cracklonian tones, and mild explosive decompressive 'pops' that our carefully engineered rice-based formula accomplishes," said Kellogg's vice president Anthony Tigris. "Can we really develop a wheat hybrid in only ten years which matches this level of performance? I would like to think so, but I have my doubts. Personally I think we'll be lucky to achieve two out of three."
The law would also restrict the sale or export of rice, and eliminate all overseas trips for Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice. In addition, it would dedicate nearly $5 billion to energy research.
"What we have to understand is that rice is not only a staple of vital American industries, but it is a potential weapon in the war on greenhouse gas emissions," said Pelosi. "In California, there is a great deal of talk about 'rice-burner' cars. My staff tells me they're very popular in Southern California. We owe it to this fledgling automotive industry to make sure they have all the rice or rice alternatives they need to succeed, so that one day, we can all drive rice-burners."