Greg Massa

Hamilton City, CA

Greg Massa

Greg Massa is a fourth generation rice farmer and president of Rice Producers of California. He and his wife Raquel manage Massa Organics, selling organic whole grain brown rice to local markets around northern California. Greg is also an active voice in the Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering, a group launched with the help of Farm Aid in 2001 to inform family farmers and consumers about the financial, environmental, and health implications of genetic engineering and to stop the further introduction of GE crops in the marketplace.

Greg Massa knows his customers.

While this may seem like a given, for most rice farmers it’s not really an option. In fact, many never get a chance to taste the grains of their labor, as rice is generally sold in bulk, sent in even larger loads to a mill for hulling, and then widely distributed, often to overseas markets. This commodity chain makes it tough for a rice farmer to meet their customer, let alone get any feedback.

Still, Greg underscores the importance of understanding his customers’ demand; and when it comes to genetic engineering, he’s done his homework. As president of Rice Producers of California, Greg was a driving force in the group’s recent efforts to survey California’s top export markets about their willingness to buy genetically engineered rice. The result: even if GE rice was cheaper and government approval was guaranteed, no one was interested.

Unlike corn, soy, wheat and cotton, GE rice has not yet been approved for commercial production in the United States, and is currently only being grown in trial plots. However, Greg and his fellow rice farmers know all too well the dangers of such experimentation, as evidenced by the Bayer Liberty Link scandal in 2006, when a small GE trial plot growing herbicide-tolerant rice turned the entire US Southern long-grain rice market on its head. Over 40% of long-grain rice grown in the United States was found to be contaminated with Liberty Link genes, resulting in major importers closing their markets overnight, a more than $1 billion blow to the industry, and shaken consumer confidence that has yet to be restored.

While this incident was contained to long-grain rice varieties, grown predominantly in Arkansas and surrounding southern states, California’s medium-grain rice markets weren’t immune to the fallout. Greg explains: “whether the risk of contamination is real or perceived, the markets react.”

Understanding his customer’s demand for GE-free rice, Greg sees it as his responsibility to help California’s rice industry remain economically viable by protecting it from GE contamination. As a fourth generation farmer and trained ecologist, Greg is also concerned about preserving his family’s heritage and the rich biodiversity of their land.

In a recent essay for The Ethicurean, Greg writes: “…the problem is that there is no way to contain the genes that get inserted into a [GE] crop plant. Through nature’s mechanisms of cross pollination and seed dispersal, or simply through human error, the genes spread. They can contaminate food crops with things you don’t want in food – say, for example, human saliva proteins masquerading as anti-diarrheal drugs” (a reference to a real threat posed to rice producers by the biotech firm Ventria Bioscience in 2003).

While the majority of rice Greg produces enters the commodity market, he also serves another kind of customer living just down the road. For more than a decade, Greg and his wife Raquel have been increasing their organic acreage, and now produce over 130 acres of organic whole grain brown rice. Once the Massas tracked down a mill willing to process it in small batches, Greg and his family began selling their organic rice exclusively to local eaters at area farmers’ markets, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), restaurants, and grocery stores. They have even entered into the farm-to-school movement, acting as the sole provider of rice for the Berkeley Unified School District. Greg’s local customers probably don’t know how good they have it, but Greg certainly does. This type of direct transaction is such a rarity that Massa Organics may be the only farm in the country offering organic rice straight to the customer. And, Greg may be one of the very few lucky rice farmers who can truly say he knows his customers.

To learn more about the risks and regulation of genetic engineering, check out Farm Aid’s fact sheet and this month’s Ask Hilde column. To do something about strengthening the regulation of GE crops, submit a public comment to USDA regarding their recently proposed rule or consider making a donation to Farm Aid to help support our ongoing work on the issue.

Greg Massa   Greg Massa

Date: 3/26/2009


Comments:
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Anonymous @ 4/14/2009 6:57:41 AM 
THANKS FOR YOUR HARD WORK IN THE EFFORTS TO STOP GENETIC ENGINEERING. MY HUSBAND IS FROM ENGLAND AND THERE IT IS CALLED GENETIC MODIFIED OR GM FOR SHORT, AND MANY PRODUCTS PROUDLY PROCLAIM THEY ARE NOT GM!! MY FATHER LIKES TO GROW (AND EAT) HIS OWN FOOD...HE WILL BE 82 ON APRIL 24TH, HE IS THE BEST ADVERTISEMENT FOR ORGANIC FOOD.
Anonymous @ 3/31/2009 7:29:27 AM 
Greg, too often companies try to market or sound like they are organic just to appease the customer, but Massa Organics is truly walking the walk. Thank you to your and your family for all the hard work. Darrin
Anonymous @ 3/29/2009 10:41:53 AM 
Annoymous @ 3/29/2009 1:47 P.M.
recently I've started eating organically as much as possible. It makes the world of difference in taste and for health purposes. And from the limited knowledge gained about organic foods and the processing of same, GE wouldn't be good for any food. May God bless you Greg in your endeavors.
Anonymous @ 3/29/2009 6:49:57 AM 
Wow!! This is awesome! Greg, thank you for taking all the right steps to support, inform, and most of all, feed your community. I am especially grateful for farmers like you and your wife. With this determination and strength of mind we have definitely make advances toward battling the GE intrusion. Thank You! -Susanne
Anonymous @ 3/28/2009 4:02:48 PM 
It's good to know people still care about protecting our food from genetic engineering. Let's make our voices heard!
Anonymous @ 3/28/2009 4:05:49 AM 
I don't like GE for any food. If Greg and his group can keep it from happening to rice - it will be one step towards getting all food back like it used to be.
Anonymous @ 3/27/2009 12:28:43 PM 
Keep up the good work Greg.
Anonymous @ 3/27/2009 11:22:20 AM 
I hope people realize how important it is to stop gentetic engineering.
pandora's box has been opened but we should certainly close the lid ASAP!
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