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FSAI bans GM rice, US farmers sue Bayer

By Anthony Fletcher , 31-Aug-2006

The FSAI is to implement a ban on the import of certain US long grain rice products unless certificates declaring them to be free of unauthorised GM rice accompany them.

The decision by the Food safety Authority of Ireland comes after the recent announcement by US authorities that an unauthorised GMO had been found in samples of commercial US rice.

The EC, which swiftly adopted a decision requiring imports of long grain rice to be certified as free from the unauthorised GMO LL Rice 601, stated that Member states are responsible for controlling the imports at their borders and for preventing any contaminated consignments from being placed on the market.

 

"Consumers can be assured that this is not a food safety issue but is related to the presence of an unauthorised line of GM rice in the food chain which is not tolerated under EU law," said Dr. Pat O'Mahony, chief specialist, biotechnology, with the FSAI.

 

"The FSAI has been in contact with Customs and Excise to determine the level of long grain rice product imports from the US, and to ensure that only long grain rice products with the proper clearance certificates are allowed into Ireland."

 

Such limits on rice imports have had an immediate impact on US farmers. Attorneys for some rice farmers have sued Bayer CropScience, alleging its GM rice has contaminated the crop.

 

A lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock, alleges that a unit of Germany's Bayer corporation failed to prevent its GM rice from entering the food chain. Strict limits placed on US rice imports have led to a dramatic fall in the price of US rice.

 

"Our clients feel that Bayer should have taken stricter steps when growing this genetically modified rice to prevent it from contaminating the commercial rice market," said Richard S. Lewis, a partner and environmental legal expert with the Cohen, Milstein law firm.

 

"Bayer's actions have resulted in an unprecedented price drop financially impacting all rice farmers."

 

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.

 

The safety of a number of herbicide tolerant GM rice lines, not including LL Rice 601, was assessed in the US resulting in the authorisation of two GM lines for placing on the market in 1999. GM rice is not authorised for the EU market at present.

 

The safety of one of the US authorised GM rice lines (LL Rice 62) is currently being assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as part of the authorisation procedure to allow the product onto the European market.

 

Dr. O'Mahony also said that current stocks of long grain rice products on the market, which originated in the US, would be checked to determine the presence of any unauthorised GM rice. Any unauthorised GM rice detected will result in the consignment being removed from the market immediately.

 

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.