EU Set to Stop GMO-Tainted US Rice
by Jeremy Smith
August 22, 2006
Europe was poised on Tuesday to prevent unauthorized biotech rice detected in the United States from entering its food chain, the EU executive said.
Measures were not specified but the rice could be blocked with import restrictions similar to those used in a case last year.
"We are preparing measures that we hope will be adopted tomorrow in order to ensure that unauthorized GM products do not reach European consumers," Commission spokeswoman Antonia Mochan told a daily news briefing. She did not elaborate.
At present, no genetically modified (GMO) rice is authorized for import or sale within the 25-country European Union, although several biotech maize and rapeseed varieties have secured EU approval.
GMO products have run into strong resistance in the European Union, where many consumers view them as "Frankenstein" foods.
Late on August 18, the Commission was informed by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns that trace amounts of unauthorized biotech rice had been detected in long-grain samples that were targeted for commercial use.
Nearly three weeks earlier, on July 31, U.S. agriculture and food safety authorities were told that testing by Bayer CropScience, a unit of Bayer AG, showed the GMO rice -- called LLRICE 601 -- in rice bins in Arkansas and Missouri.
It was the first time that unmarketed genetically engineered rice had been found in rice used in the U.S. commercial market.
Commission experts have contacted Bayer and U.S. authorities for more information, saying earlier this week they were treating the matter with the "utmost urgency."
"We have a number of issues that we put to them on which we wish clarification," spokeswoman Mochan said.
Japan, for which the United States is the largest rice exporter, has already suspended imports of U.S. long-grain rice.
Europe's consumers are known for their skepticism about GMO crops. But the biotech industry insists its products are perfectly safe and no different to conventional foods.
Another Transatlantic Clash
The biotech rice case recalls a similar transatlantic clash over GMO foods last year, when EU experts blocked imports of U.S. maize animal feed and grains unless there was proof they were untainted by an unauthorized GMO. That proof comes via a technical detection test, provided by the manufacturing company.
It is still unclear whether the unauthorized rice strain -- modified to withstand applications of a weed-killing pesticide -- might have found its way into shipments destined for European markets, and if so, how much of it and in what concentrations.
"We're looking into this with the American authorities to see exactly what is at stake. On the basis of this information, we'll adopt the right measures to ensure that the GMO rice does not enter the European market," Mochan said.
"We're trying to see where the problem lies ... and the potential impact on the European market," she added.
U.S. authorities say the GMO strain poses no risk to public health or the environment. Green groups, however, are outraged by the latest GMO scare to flare up between the two huge trading partners, calling on the EU to suspend its U.S. rice imports.
Japan Suspends US Long-Grain Rice Imports
August 20, 2006
TOKYO - Japan has suspended imports of U.S. long-grain rice following a positive test for trace amounts of a genetically modified strain not approved for human consumption, a news report said Sunday.
Japan's Health Ministry imposed the suspension on Saturday after being informed by U.S. federal officials that trace amounts of the unapproved strain had been discovered in commercially available long-grain rice, the Asahi newspaper said.
The genetically engineered rice was detected by Bayer CropScience AG. The German company then notified U.S. officials. The strain is not approved for sale in the U.S., but two other strains of rice with the same genetically engineered protein are. The ministry will instruct companies not to process or sell any U.S. long-grain rice they may already have imported, though it has so far not received any report this year that any company has imported or plans to import such rice, the Asahi said.
The ministry has requested the U.S. government to enact strict controls, the Asahi said, adding that the suspension does not affect short- and medium-grain rice imports.
The Health Ministry does not include any strain of rice on its list of genetically modified foods approved for sale in Japan.
Health Ministry officials were unavailable for comment Sunday.