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FSA plans review of unauthorised GM rice

By Laura Crowley , 08-Nov-2007

The Food Standards Agency is to review the handling of last year's GM rice incident, when unauthorised grain was found in samples of commercial batches on the UK market.

The illegal LL Rice 601, unapproved for human consumption, was found in American long grain rice supplies for export in August 2006.

 

 

 

Following criticism of the agency's handling of the incident, a judicial review already took place in February, which found in favour of the regulatory agency. But the judge did highlight a number of mistakes made by them in dealing with the emergency.

 

 

 

Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth claimed the FSA failed in its legal obligation to check for contaminated rice on the market in the UK. It said the FSA should have done more work with local authorities and the food industry to make sure illegal GM rice was detected and removed from shelves and other parts of the market.

 

 

 

The FSA is now calling for the views of stakeholders directly involved in the incident. These, together with the judge's points, will be discussed at the new review to take place in London on November 29.

 

 

 

LL Rice 601 is one of a number of GM rice lines developed by the biotech company Bayer that were engineered to tolerate the herbicide, glufosinate ammonium. When it was found in exported commercial batches, it was only at the experimental stage. But in November last year it was approved in the US.

 

 

 

Although European safety experts advised that rice containing trace levels of this GM material was not likely to pose serious danger, its presence in food in the European Union is illegal. No GM rice is authorised for the EU market at present.

 

 

 

At the time of the incident, the Commission immediately adopted emergency measures, meaning that only consignments of US long grain rice that were tested by an accredited laboratory using a validated testing method and accompanied by a certificated assuring the absence of LL Rice 601 can enter the EU.

 

 

 

The incident impacted on the rice industry, with rice futures prices plummeting $150m. Several multi-million dollar class action lawsuits and individual lawsuits were filed against Bayer by US farmers who suffered severe financial losses.

 

 

 

The USA is one of the major suppliers of rice to the EU. The EU imports approximately 20.000 tons of long grain husked, semi-milled and wholly-milled rice from the USA per month on average.

 

 

 

In fact, the US provides about 12 per cent of world rice trade. In 2005, 80 per cent of rice exports were long grain varieties. Other major suppliers of rice to the EU are India, Thailand and Guyana.