Monday, October 23, 2006

GM Rice in Europe - New Strains and New Tests

Today, the European Commission tabled a Decision imposing mandatory testing for US long grain rice.

The Decision (2006/601/EC) was tabled at today's meeting of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFCAH), section for genetically modified food and feed and environmental risk. A press release last week stated that discussions between the US and European Commission had not been able to achieve a consensus on a protocol for sampling and testing. Further, it was confirmed that certification requirements will continue to be imposed, in keeping with those announced in August and reported in Patenting Lives. The draft Decision is to introduce sampling and testing for all consignments of US long-grain rice at the point of entry to the EU, with costs to be incurred by the operators.

The Decision follows the controversial contamination of US imports of long grain rice by the unauthorised variety LLRICE601, back in August this year. Subsequently, Chinese rice imports were also found to be contaminated with unauthorised GM strains, prompting Friends of the Earth Europe (FOEE) to call for an immediate ban.

In September, Bayer released a subsequent statement declaring that the variety was safe according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as authorities elsewhere in the world, including the UK's Food Standard Agency (FSA) as well as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Since then, a second variety of Bayer GM rice has been detected according to Philip Tod, the Commission's spokesperson for health and consumer issues, speaking to Dow Jones Newswires Friday (courtesy of Indymedia). The second strain, LLRICE62 was found in France by authorities and was notified under the European rapid alert system for food and feed (RASFF). The strain is authorised for marketing in the US but to date has not been commercialised there, as confirmed by Anette Josten, speaking on behalf of Bayer and quoted in the Dow Jones Newswire piece. The recent finding of the unauthorised LLRICE62 was noted in the press release announcing the tabling of the Decision, with counter tests confirmed as able to detect this strain as well as the original contaminating strain, LLRICE601.

Consumers in Europe remain concerned about GM technology in food products, despite confidence in other areas of technology. Today, Planet Ark reported on research showing that 75% of Italians continue to view GM food as a health risk. Civil society and environmental organisations have maintained strong support for robust testing and certification procedures, with Greenpeace last week calling for strategies to prevent further contamination by other GMOs, and FOEE welcoming proposals for testing. Last week, FOEE released a list of episodes of GM rice contamination in Europe, noted a "growing number of cases." Adrian Bebb, of FOEE, said, "This is absolutely necessary since there have now been almost eighty cases of contamination across Europe in the past six weeks."

According to EurActiv, officials at the US mission to the EU declined to comment.

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