European groups demand ban on US rice

Environmental and food-safety groups have called for the biotech industry to be held to greater account if further contamination of the food chain with genetically modified foodstuffs is not to occur. The calls came after a strain of GM rice produced by biotech food giant, Bayer Crop Science, found its way into conventional long-grain rice crops in the US. Some of those crops were then exported to European and other markets, where traces of the strain, Liberty Link Rice 601, were also found.

Environmental groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (FOE) insisted a complete ban on all US long-grain rice imports into Europe was necessary until "US authorities have established a trustworthy certification scheme and ensured that the contamination in the US has been contained."

In the UK, FOE issued legal action against the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for informing retailers they were not required to test for LL601 in US long-grain rice products that may have been contaminated. "The FSA met with the food industry and told them they didn't expect the food industry to track and recall products that may have been contaminated with this GM strain of rice," spokesperson Clare Oxborrow told FF&N. "There is a big investigation in the US to find out how this happened and no one has the faintest idea there. We need a much more vigorous system in Europe to make sure contaminated products can't enter our food chain."

An FSA spokesperson said its action had been proportionate to the risk involved as the European Food Safety Authority had determined there was not enough evidence to suggest LL601 "poses a risk to health."

Contaminated batches were also reported in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden.

In the US, the FDA reached a similar conclusion of safety, and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it proposed to legalise the herbicide-resistant strain Bayer stopped working on five years ago and never sold commercially, as it had passed safety requirements and was already in the food system.

However the California-based Center for Food Safety (CFS) said more stringent controls and testing were required to prevent further GM crises. "We think it's really important that the USDA start regulating these rice varieties again, and not just have some fast-track approval of it just because it already got out," said CFS attorney Miyoko Sakashita. "Once they're out in the environment you can't recall them — it's like letting the genie out of the bottle."

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