USDA and FDA unaware of identity, location or number of contaminated products (20/8/2006)

Unapproved, Genetically Engineered Rice Found in Food Supply
USDA and FDA Unaware of Identity, Location or Number of Contaminated Products
Citing Past Contamination and USDA's Illegal Activities, Center for Food Safety Calls for Moratorium on Genetically Engineered Crop Field Trials
Center for Food Safety, August 18, 2006

Late today in a webcast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that an unapproved, genetically engineered rice known as LL601 was found contaminating commercial long-grain rice supplies, according to information supplied by the developer of the rice, Bayer CropScience. The presence of LL601 in the food supply is illegal, as it has not undergone USDA review for potential environmental impacts required prior to marketing, nor review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for possible harm to human health. LL601 is genetically altered to survive application of the powerful herbicide glufosinate, and was field-tested under permits granted by the USDA from 1998 to 2001.

In the webcast, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns professed ignorance as to how much rice was contaminated, which rice products were involved, or where the contaminated rice was found. Bayer informed USDA of the contamination on July 31st, 2006, based on test results reported to the company by a rice merchandiser. USDA officials stated that rice contaminated with LL601 will not be destroyed. Though Bayer does not intend to market the rice, the company will apply to USDA for marketing approval of LL601, apparently in an effort to limit its liability for the episode. Bayer reportedly stopped development of LL601 for unknown reasons in 2001.

"Once again, USDA has demonstrated its inability to keep experimental and potentially hazardous genetically engineered crops out of the food supply," said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at Center for Food Safety. "Until USDA gets its act together, we recommend a moratorium on all new permits for open-air field testing of genetically engineered crops not permitted in the food supply."

"The USDA is an agency out of control," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. "USDA's continuing failure to adequately regulate and monitor field testing of genetically engineered crops clearly puts the environment and public health at risk."

Kimbrell points to an August 10th decision by a federal district judge in Hawai'i, who ruled that USDA violated two federal laws in granting permits to grow drug-producing, genetically engineered crops in Hawai'i. The judge said the USDA acted "arbitrarily and capriciously," and in "utter disregard" of the Endangered Species Act.

In late 2005, the USDA's own Inspector General issued a scathing report detailing numerous violations of agency rules in regulating genetically engineered crop field trials. USDA officials did not know the locations of many field trials it was charged with regulating, and did not conduct required inspections of others. In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences also criticized serious deficiencies in USDA's regulation of genetically engineered crops.

Since 1996, the USDA has granted at least 48 permits authorizing Bayer or companies it has since acquired (Aventis, AgrEvo) to plant over 4,000 acres of experimental, genetically engineered (GE) rice. The extent to which pollen or grains from these field trials have contaminated commercial rice or related weedy species such as red rice is unknown. USDA policies do not provide for the testing of fields adjacent to field test sites to detect possible contamination with the experimental genetically engineered crop.

Overall, USDA has issued permits authorizing field tests of over 100 genetically engineered crops on roughly 50,000 sites on more than half a million acres since 1987.

Bill Freese, 202-547-9359 x14
Rebecca Spector, 415-826-2770 x301

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