NEWS2U Health & Wellness
Living Healthy in an Unhealthy World

Monday, September 25, 2006

USDA Urged to Deny Approval of Illegal Genetically Engineered Rice Found in Food Chain

Legal Petition Calls for Banning All "LibertyLink" Rice as Plant Pests

(September 14, 2006) Today, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a legal petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that seeks to prevent the post hoc approval of an illegal genetically engineered rice recently found in the world's food supply. On August 22nd, Bayer CropScience sought an after-the-fact USDA rubber stamp for the illegal rice, known as LLRICE601. The contamination episode has triggered major disruptions to U.S. rice exports, caused substantial losses to farmers as rice prices plummet, and exposed consumers to an inadequately tested genetically engineered crop. The CFS petition presents both legal and scientific grounds as to why USDA should deny Bayer's request.

Granting the petition would also force USDA to rescind approvals already granted to two similar LibertyLink rice varieties, LLRICE06 and LLRICE62. CFS demonstrates that these varieties as well as LLRICE601 should be deemed "plant pests" because they will contaminate conventional and organic rice, create difficult-to-control weeds, lead to increased chemical residues on rice, and cause economic harm to U.S. rice farmers. Though approved by USDA in 1999, LLRICE06 and LLRICE62 are not (knowingly) grown anywhere in the world due to universal opposition from the rice and food industries.

"USDA's failure to protect farmers and consumers from the risks of gene-spliced rice has already caused massive problems for the U.S. rice industry," said Miyoko Sakashita, staff attorney at Center for Food Safety and lead author of the petition.

Last month, the U.S. rice industry was jolted by news of illegal LLRICE601 in the food supply. In response, Japan banned all long-grain rice from the U.S., while the European Union now tests U.S. rice shipments and rejects any contaminated with LLRICE601. The Secretary of the Arkansas Agriculture Department recently stated that "almost all" tested samples of long-grain rice, grown in the Southern rice belt, were turning up positive for LLRICE601. The European Union recently announced that 33 of 162 rice samples have tested positive for LLRICE601. Louisiana State University has found LLRICE601 contaminating a publicly-developed foundation seed line. Foundation seed is the genetically pure breeder stock from which all commercial lines of the same variety are derived.

"The only chance of preventing a repeat of the LLRICE601 contamination debacle is for USDA to grant the requests in our petition," said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of CFS. "Rejection of our petition by USDA would represent a betrayal of U.S. rice farmers and American agriculture."

LibertyLink rice is engineered with a bacterial gene to survive application of glufosinate, the active ingredient in Bayer's proprietary Liberty herbicide. The inevitable transfer of the glufosinate-resistance gene to weedy red rice - already among the worst weeds in the Southern rice belt - via cross-pollination threatens creation of "superweeds." Glufosinate-resistant weeds would also be created by the increased use of Liberty anticipated with commercial plantings of LibertyLink rice.

Contamination of the rice supply with any variety of LibertyLink rice would likely trigger the same market rejection and economic losses just experienced with LLRICE601, as no LibertyLink varieties are approved anywhere in the world outside of the U.S. Even the threat of contamination of conventional and organic rice could cause further huge export losses for U.S. rice farmers.

The petition also notes that increased use of Liberty would mean more chemical residues in rice, citing a 2003 decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to permit glufosinate residues on transgenic rice, a decision taken in response to a petition by Bayer CropScience. Finally, the petition notes that no variety of LibertyLink rice has been adequately tested to detect potentially hazardous side effects of genetic engineering.

"European and international food safety agencies acknowledge the need for comprehensive testing of genetically engineered foods for hazardous side effects, including animal feeding trials with the GE crop," said Mendelson. "Only the U.S. government discounts these risks, letting industry pollute the food supply while requiring virtually nothing to protect the public from these risky experimental foods," he added.

"USDA's stamp of approval to genetically engineered rice after it has illegally contaminated the food supply would set a dangerous precedent, rewarding the biotech industry's negligence and thereby making similar contamination episodes more likely in the future," said Sakashita.