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GM Contamination Register
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North America / USA
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Failure of control systems at Bayer CropScience

USA - Long-grain rice contaminated with unapproved GM variety

On 18th August, the US Secretary for Agriculture announced that Bayer CropScience had reported that rice from the 2005 crop being sold commercially in the USA had been found to be contaminated with a GM variety, LLRICE601, that is not approved for growing and consumption. The rice is genetically modified to be tolerant to the herbicide, glufosinate (trade name: Liberty), but development of the LL601 variety was ended in 2001. Two other varieties of glufosinate tolerant rice, LLRICE62 and LLRICE06, are approved in the USA but are not being grown commercially.

The contamination is thought to have been discovered by the company, Riceland, in January 2006. Originally found in samples from Arkansas, following sampling in May, Riceland are reported to consider that the contamination is ‘geographically dispersed and random’, throughout the US rice growing area. Riceland is thought to have informed Bayer but it appears that the US government was not informed until July 2006. The US Department of Agriculture waited a further 18 days before informing Europe and other importing countries.

Japan suspended imports of long-grain rice from the USA on August 20th. On August 23, the European Commission announced that imports of rice would only be allowed if they were accompanied by a certificate demonstrating they did not contain the unauthorised GM rice. Rice futures prices fell by more than 5% at the Chicago Board of Trade on August 22 as a result of the GM contamination. This was reported to be the largest fall in years.

As of 12th December 2006, there have been reports (including via the rapid alerts system to the European Commission) of GM LL601 rice contamination in food and feed from 19 European Union countries: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, UK. LLRICE601 contamination has also been found in rice bought in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai, Kuwait and the Philippines and food aid in Sierra Leone. The European Commission is proposing to introduce stricter testing protocols for imports of rice into Europe which will include LLRice 62, another illegal variety of GM rice that was detected in imports of US rice into France in October 2006 (see separate register entry).

The USDA have made a statement that they consider the LLRICE601 to be safe based on assessments of the two other GM rice varieties. However, there does not appear to be any information in the public domain about the exact nature of the LLRICE601 variety. Each individual line of a GM crop has to be individually assessed for safety because the genes will be inserted randomly into the genome and may cause unintended effects. The LLRICE 601 must be different in some ways from other GM rice varieties or Bayer would not have been able to detect its presence.

On 15th September 2006, the European Food Safety Authority’s GMO Panel said that there was insufficient data to provide a full risk assessment in accordance with EFSA’s GM guidance for LLRICE601. However, “on the basis of the available molecular and compositional data and the toxicological profile of a newly introduced protein[2], the Panel considers that the consumption of imported long grain rice containing trace levels of LLRICE601 is not likely to pose an imminent safety concern to humans or animals”.

The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), is conducting an inquiry into how the contamination incident took place and whether laws were broken. In relation to the source of the contamination, Bayer has said: “The Agricultural Center of the Louisiana State University – an important rice breeding station in the Southern U.S. which conducted some field research on LL601 in collaboration with Aventis CropScience – stated in a press release from August 31, 2006, that they have found trace amounts of LL601 in the 2003 foundation seed of one of their long-grain rice varieties”.

Bayer submitted a dossier to the US authorities applying for deregulation (equivalent to marketing consent) of LLRICE601 and was given post hoc authorisation for the contamination in November 2006. However, its presence in rice exports to Europe and Japan, where LLRICE601 is not approved, remains illegal. Rice farmers in Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and California have started legal proceedings against Bayer CropScience because of the contamination.

The US Rice Federation has produced to eliminate LLRICE 601 from US rice seed using a testing regime and restricting sales of the Cheniere variety in 2007. Cheniere is the variety that is thought to have originally been contaminated. Rice growers and exporters in Thailand and Vietnam have signed an accord stating that they will not grow GM rice.

The presence of an unapproved GM variety in rice seed that was not even intended for commercialisation, is an almost identical situation to that seen with the contamination of maize with Syngeta’s Bt10 GM variety.

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

U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Statement on Report of Bioengineered Rice in the Food Supply. August 2006 >

EFSA’s GMO Panel provides reply to European Commission request on GM rice LLRICE601. EFSA Press Release September 15, 2006 >

Food Standards Agency (UK) Illegal GM rice update: October 5, 2006 >

GE Technology out of control: Greenpeace discovers contamination from Bayer's Genetically Engineered Rice in Middle East. Greenpeace Press Release, October 10, 2006 >

European Commission, Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) >

Comments of Bayer CropScience on LLRICE601 as of September 19, 2006 >

GM rice: Commission to propose strict counter testing of US rice imports. European Commission Press Release, October 19, 2006 >

APHIS, November 2006. Finding of no significant impact. Extension of Nonregulated Status to Rice Line LLRICE601 >

Greenpeace Southeast Asia Press Release, November 28, 2006. GMO rice contamination found in the Philippines. Thailand, Vietnam slam doors against GE rice as contamination spreads further >

Suspected unauthorised GMO rice in Netherlands. Reuters, August, 31, 2006 >

Testing to be carried out for illegal GM rice. Food Standards Agency, September 1, 2006 >

Rice contaminated by GM has been on sale for months. The Independent, August 27, 2006 >

Bayer CropScience comments on the identification of traces of biotechnology rice in U.S. rice samples. August 18, 2006 >

Japan suspends US long-grain rice imports. Dow Jones, August 20th, 2006 >

Statement by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns regarding genetically engineered rice. August 18, 2006 >

Genetically engineered rice – Fact Sheet – USDA. August 2006 >

Commission requires certification of US rice exports to stop unauthorised GMO entering the EU. European Commission Press Release. August 23, 2006 >

U.S. rice dives as GMO issue stirs export fears source. Reuters. August 22, 2006 >

Questions and Answers on the finding of unauthorised GM rice on the US market. European Commission memo. August 23, 2006 >

US rice farmers sue Bayer CropScience over GM rice. Reuters, August 28, 2006 >

Polish National Health Inspector - Results of testing finds 3 out of 48 products contaminated with LL601RICE. >

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