Health Supreme by Sepp Hasslberger

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September 19, 2006

Illegal GM Contaminated Rice - US, UK Fail To Act

According to Greenpeace, up to one fifth of US long grain rice is contaminated with an illegal genetically modified strain. Rice farmers in Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and California have sued Bayer CropScience over the contamination, which they allege will hurt their business. Indeed, Japan and the European Union have placed restrictions on importing US rice, and consequently prices have dropped dramatically.


Sushi - Image by Monika Leon

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) seems not to mind. Instead of investigating the incident and recalling the produce, here is how they are taking care of the issue, according to the Organic Consumers Association:

USDA SAYS SHUT UP AND EAT YOUR FRANKENRICE The USDA has finally reacted to the contamination of the U.S. rice supply by an unapproved, genetically engineered variety of rice created by the Bayer Corporation. Three weeks ago, it was discovered that Bayer's mutant rice, gene-spliced to survive heavy doses of a powerful herbicide called glufosinate, had contaminated U.S. long grain rice stocks. The USDA admitted it had "no idea" how extensive the contamination was. Meanwhile Japan has banned all U.S. rice imports, while the EU is rejecting U.S. imports that test positive for contamination. The rice industry has been in a state of upheaval, with rumors of a massive market recall spreading across the country. This week, the USDA announced its plan of action: instead of recalling this illegal, and potentially unsafe rice, it is working with Bayer to fast-track the approval process. "Illegal, potentially hazardous rice in grain bins, on supermarket shelves, in cereal, beer, baby foods, and all rice products. It should be a no-brainer. Recall this stuff to make sure no one eats it," said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety. "Instead, USDA plans to rush through 'market approval' of a genetically engineered rice that Bayer itself decided was unfit for commerce. Why? To free Bayer from liability."

Could the agreements between health authorities and big food to promote GM technology in agriculture, be so strong - notwithstanding appeasing public pronouncements - that any action against even blatantly illegal contamination with unapproved and untested varieties is becoming impossible?

Well, looking towards the UK, where much of the contaminated rice is on sale, would confirm that hypothesis. The Independent has two articles which detail the UK authorities' reactions or rather their inaction in view of the contamination issue:

- - -

GM: The cover-up

Revealed: Government food watchdog gave green light to supermarkets to sell 'illegal' genetically modified rice

(see original here)

Britain's official food safety watchdog has privately told supermarkets that it will not stop them selling an illegal GM rice to the public.

Documents seen by this newspaper show that the Food Standards Agency assured major manufacturers and retailers 10 days ago that it would not make them withdraw the rice - at the same time as it was telling the public it should not be allowed to go on sale.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth has already found GM material in two types of own-brand rice sold in Morrisons supermarkets - in direct contravention of food safety regulations - and believes the GM rice is likely to be widespread throughout Britain.

But the agency has not carried out its own tests for modified rice in products on the market, and has not instructed retailers to do so. It says that the rice is safe, but some scientists disagree.

Last night, Peter Ainsworth, the shadow Environment Secretary, described the agency's conduct as "a massive scandal" and said it "smelt of a cover-up". He said he would be asking for an official investigation into whether the agency had broken the law.

Legally, no GM material is allowed to go on sale in Britain or any other EU country. But last month the Bush administration admitted it had found a modified material, which had not even received safety clearance in the US, in long-grain rice intended for export.

The unauthorised rice, which is listed as LLRICE601, was developed by Bayer CropScience to tolerate weedkiller, and tested on US farms between 1998 and 2001. The company decided not to market it. Nevertheless it has turned up widely in US rice, possibly because pollen from the tested rice spread to conventional crops. The European Commission says that it has been found in 33 of 162 samples of rice imported from the US.

The EC last month banned any further imports unless they could be proved to be clear of the GM rice, and instructed governments to test products already on the market to make sure that they did not contain it.

The European health and consumer protection commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, said it should not be allowed to enter the food chain "in any circumstances".

Two big Swiss supermarket chains have already banned all US long-grain rice from sale.

The Food Standards Agency publicly announced that "the presence of this GM material in rice on sale in the UK is illegal under European food law", adding: "Food retailers are responsible for ensuring the food they sell does not contain unauthorised GM material."

But on 5 September, a senior agency official, Claire Baynton, privately met major retailers and food manufacturers. According to records of the meeting seen by The Independent on Sunday, she said the agency did not expect companies to trace products and withdraw them.

The agency says it told the companies at the meeting that it was their responsibility to ensure that the food they sold did not contain GM material, but that it would not "require" them to test for it or withdraw products if found.

It says that it has "not carried out tests of products on the market" and "has not issued any instructions to retailers" to do so. The agency says that modified rice does not present a safety concern and is advising people who may have US rice at home to continue to eat it. But some scientists say it could give cause for "concern over its potential allergenicity".

Friends of the Earth has found GM material in two samples of Morrisons American long-grain rice and American long-grain brown rice, although it was not able to verify that it was LLRICE601. Morrisons accepts that selling any GM rice is illegal. It cleared its shelves of the products "as a precautionary measure" immediately after being informed of the findings.

Clare Oxborrow, GM campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "The discovery of illegal GM ingredients is very worrying. The Food Standards Agency has failed to take action to identify and withdraw contaminated food, so it is likely that more illegal rice will reach the plates of unsuspecting customers.

"Instead of down-playing this contamination incident, and delaying action, the agency should be taking urgent steps to prevent illegal GM rice from being sold in our shops."

Leading article: Time to guard the shelves

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? The question of who will guard the guards is raised again by our revelation today that the Food Standards Agency has privately told food manufacturers and retailers that it will not stop them selling an illegal GM rice. The Agency has already, in its short life, done much to undermine public confidence in its competence and impartiality, taking a seemingly uncritical approach to GM food despite evidence of cause for concern. It has lost no opportunity to attack organic produce. Even a review of its own performance last year found the "vast majority" of its stakeholders considered it biased.

There were signs that the agency might have begun to change its ways, but today's news shows that it is, in fact, worse than ever. The safety, or otherwise, of the GM rice is irrelevant. The point is that it is illegal to sell it in Britain. Yet the Agency is making no real effort to find out whether it is on the shelves, or to make sure that retailers do likewise. It has also indicated that it will not force companies to withdraw the rice if it is found. That is a scandal. It is high time the Agency assumed its proper role at last - putting the interests of consumers above those of the industry.

(original here)

- - -

Update November 25, 2006, Washington Post

Genetically Engineered Rice Wins USDA Approval

The Department of Agriculture declared safe for human consumption yesterday an experimental variety of genetically engineered rice found to have contaminated the U.S. rice supply this summer. The move ... to deregulate the special long-grain rice, LL601, was seen as a legal boon to its creator, Bayer CropScience. The company applied for approval shortly after the widespread contamination was disclosed in August and now faces a class-action lawsuit filed by hundreds of farmers in Arkansas and Missouri. The experimental rice ... escaped from Bayer's test plots after the company dropped the project in 2001. The resulting contamination, once it became public, prompted countries around the world to block rice imports from the United States, sending rice futures plummeting and farmers into fits. In approving the rice, the USDA allowed Bayer to take a regulatory shortcut and skip many of the usual safety tests. Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, said the quick approval shows that the USDA is more concerned about the fortunes of the biotechnology industry than about consumers' health. "USDA is telling agricultural biotechnology companies that it doesn't matter if you're negligent, if you break the rules, if you contaminate the food supply with untested genetically engineered crops, we'll bail you out," Mendelson said in a statement. Officials in Europe, where genetically altered rice is derisively dubbed "Frankenfood," made clear as recently as last week that European countries will not accept any U.S. rice, he said.

(Information received via PEERS:

See also:

Legal challenge plan over GM rice
Friends of the Earth has said it will start a legal challenge against the Food Standards Agency (FSA) over the sale of GM rice in UK supermarkets. It claims the agency privately told retailers they did not need to test for contamination of rice by GM products. GM rice is banned in the EU because of fears not enough research on possible health risks has been carried out.

Stores told to remove GM rice from shelves
Stores must remove any rice known to contain GM strains from their shelves, the Food Standards Agency said. Selling products known to be contaminated with GM material is illegal in the UK, but the FSA previously told businesses that actively tracking down and removing contaminated rice products was unnecessary because they didn't pose an "imminent" health risk. The watchdog's updated advice follows the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) assessment of safety implications of GM material in rice.

US Department of Agriculture jittery over GMO imports
In an apparently sharp reversal, the US Department of Agriculture is now borrowing all the arguments that it once pooh-poohed against obligatory trade of genetically engineered foods.


posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Tuesday September 19 2006
updated on Saturday December 4 2010

URL of this article:


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