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US GM rice trials contaminate world rice supplies

During 2006 and 2007 traces of three varieties of unapproved GM rice owned by Bayer CropScience were found in US rice exports in over 30 countries worldwide. At the time of discovery only one of the contaminating varieties (LLRICE62) had approval for cultivation in the US, the other two varieties (LLRICE601 and LLRICE604) had not. None of the contaminating varieties had approval for cultivation or consumption anywhere else in the world.

No GM rice has ever been grown commercially in the US and the source of the contamination is believed to be field trials of herbicide tolerant rice conducted between the mid-1990s and early-2000s by Bayer CropScience (or its precursor companies Aventis CropScience and AgrEvo). Bayer abandoned these trials in 2002. Despite two of their rice varieties, (LLRICE06 and LLRICE62) receiving deregulated status in 2002, none of Bayer’s GM rice varieties have ever been placed on the market US. The USDA official report into the incident identified the field trials as the source of contamination but was unable to decide whether gene flow (cross pollination) or mechanical mixing was the mechanism responsible for the contamination.

The incident has had a major impact on US rice exports with US rice being pulled from shelves worldwide. Many countries including the European Union, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines imposed a strict certification and testing regime on all rice imports, whilst Russia and Bulgaria imposed bans on US rice. By contrast other rice exporting countries have seen an increase in trade. The contamination episode has also affected seed producers; an entire non-GM rice variety Clearfield 131 was banned by US regulators in early 2007 when it was found to be contaminated, costing producer BASF billions of dollars in losses.

Bayer has sought retrospective approval for the contaminating rice varieties. Approval for commercial growing of LL601 was granted in the US in 2006 and approval for import was granted for LL62 in Canada in 2006.

For more information see:

‘Rice industry in crisis’ Greenpeace International 06/02/07click here

‘Bayer CropScience contaminates our rice’ Greenpeace International 08/10/07 click here

‘Risky Business’ Greenpeace International 06/11/07 click here

‘Biotechnology Noncompliance History’ United States Department of Agriculture 2007 click here

For full details of the global rice contamination by LLRICE601 click here

Bayer rice contamination timeline

1998-2001 Aventis field trials of LL601 are conducted in the United States including sites at Louisiana State University.

2002 Bayer buys Aventis and discontinues rice field trials. Field trials of other GE rice varieties continue worldwide. Plans for commercialization of LL601 apparently abandoned.

2005 USDA criticised heavily by its Inspector General for poor oversight of field trials of GE crops.

2006 January - Riceland, the largest US producer and exporter of rice, tests rice intended for export. Presence of GE LL601 is revealed. Further testing conducted and confirmed in Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana and Texas.

2006 May - Bayer claims it was first made aware of the contamination. No explanation for Riceland's delay in notifying Bayer.

2006 June - LL62 approved for use as food and feed in Canada.

2006 July - Bayer notifies the USDA of contamination and requests deregulation of the strain. No explanation for the delay in notifying the USDA.

2006 August - The USDA publicly releases the contamination information. No explanation for delay in notifying rice importing countries and traders. Sharp trading decline in US rice market.

2006 August - EU issues Emergency Declaration (2006/578/EC) in order to prevent ongoing contamination of EU rice supplies. Japan suspends imports of long grain US rice. South Korea demands that its importers be guaranteed there is no GE content in US rice shipments. Other countries follow suit.

2006 August - Bayer CropScience applies to Philippine Government for approval of LL62 rice for food and feed use.

2006 September - Japan widens testing of US rice to look for GE contamination in short- and medium-grain rice.

2006 September - Two multi-million dollar class action lawsuits filed by farmers and rice traders against Bayer.

2006 October - France detects LL62 in long grain rice. LL62, approved in the US but not in the EU, represents an entirely new contamination problem. Testing in the US indicates that the problem is widespread in US rice supplies.

2006 November - USDA approves LL601 for consumption, despite 15,000 objections and the European Food Safety Authority finding that there was insufficient data to make a finding of safety. No penalties or prosecutions of Bayer to date.

2007 March - USDA announces contamination in Clearfield rice seed (CL131) and its use is banned.

2006 Register entries for contamintion of rice by Bayer crops sicence herbcide tolerant GM rice varieties.
Austia (LLRICE601)
Belgium (LLRICE601)
Cyprus (LLRICE601)
Denmark (LLRICE601)
Finland (LLRICE601) France (LLRICE62)
France (LLRICE601) Germany (LLRICE601)
Ghana (LLRICE601)Greece (LLRICE601) Guatemala (LLRICE601)Ireland (LLRICE601)
Italy (LLRICE601)Kuwait (LLRICE601) Luxembourg (LLRICE601) Malta (LLRICE601) 
Mexico (LLRICE601 + LLRICE62)Nicaragua(LLRICE601) Norway (LLRICE601)
Poland (LLRICE601)Sierra Leone (LLRICE601)Slovenia (LLRICE601) Sweden (LLRICE601)
The Netherlands (LLRICE601)United Kingdom (LLRICE601)United Arab Emirates (LLRICE601)USA (LLRICE601)

2007 Register entries for contamintion of rice by Bayer crops sicence herbcide tolerant GM rice varieties.
Austria (LLRICE62)
Austria  (LLRICE601) Canada (LLRICE601) China (LLRICE601)
Cyrpus (LLRICE601) Czech Republic (LLRICE601) Finland (LLRICE601) France (LLRICE601)
Germany (LLRICE601)
Italy (LLRICE601) Mexico (LLRICE601) Sweden (LLRICE601)
USA (LLRICE601 + LL604)    

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