Natural Foods Merchandiser

GM rice found in U.S. shipment to Sweden

U.S. long-grain rice exports to the European Union are likely to end after Swedish officials detected the genetically modified LLRICE601 strain in a 30-container shipment of rice from the United States in February.

Swedish importer and retailer ICA was one of only a few importers still taking U.S. rice after the European Union imposed certification and testing requirements to enforce its GM labeling requirements in September 2006. Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service says it's doubtful the company will continue importing any U.S. rice.

The February rice shipment had already tested negative for LL601 twice—once in the United States and once by ICA—before the official testing in Sweden, which can detect traces of LL601 below 0.1 percent. Although ICA had blocked the sale of the rice while awaiting official testing, small quantities still reached retail stores and were recalled.

Bayer CropScience's LLRICE601 is one of three GM rice strains that contain the Liberty Link protein for herbicide tolerance, which Bayer field tested between 1998 and 2001. Though Bayer did not intend to market LLRICE601, it was discovered in U.S. rice crops in 2006. At the time, LL601 rice was not approved for consumption in the United States, but USDA regulators retroactively approved it last November. Prior to its approval, no commercial GM rice was allowed in the United States.

About half of the $2.2 billion U.S. rice harvest is exported, according to the USDA. USA Rice Federation spokesman David Coia said 63 percent of U.S. rice export markets have been affected by LLRICE601, the largest being Mexico and Japan.

Coia said U.S. rice-producing states are working diligently to make sure successive crops are LL601-free, starting with the 2007 crop. But that's not likely to be an easy task, according to Mark Lipson, policy program director at the Organic Farming Research Foundation. Farmers will have to exclude the GM traits from their foundation seed, he said, keeping the seeds under tighter control. "The problem is there's a shortage of seed that's been verified GE-free," Lipson said.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 6/p.19

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