GM rice contamination widespread: Bayer knew in May (24/8/2006)

Dr Brian John has drawn our attention to the following points in the NYT article below:

** Riceland knew in January that there was contamination of rice destined for export and human consumption

** The contaminated rice appears to be widespread across Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas

** There appear to be a good many positive samples

** Bayer knew about this in May, but did not inform USDA until July 31st

Unapproved Rice Strain Found in Wide Area
New York Times, August 22 2006

An unapproved genetically engineered strain of rice has been found in trace amounts in commercial supplies over a wide area in the nation’s southern rice-growing region, the country’s largest marketer of rice said yesterday.

The marketer, Riceland Foods, a farmer-owned cooperative, said samples from its five-state growing region — Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas — had tested positive for the genetically engineered trait.

"The positive results were geographically dispersed and random throughout the rice-growing area," Riceland said.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced late Friday that unapproved rice had been found in supplies destined for human consumption. He and other federal officials said the rice posed no risk to health or the environment.

Because some countries will not accept genetically modified crops they have not approved themselves, the finding could hurt American exports or require them to undergo extra testing. About half the nation's $1.9 billion rice crop is exported.

In a telephone news conference on Friday, Mr. Johanns declined to discuss how far the unapproved rice had spread. Agriculture Department officials later said it had been found in bins in Arkansas and Missouri that held rice from the 2005 crop, though the rice in those bins might have come from other states.

Bill J. Reed, a spokesman for Riceland, said in an interview yesterday that the rice was "not limited to Arkansas and Missouri" but had been found "throughout the southern rice-growing area."

The unapproved rice, a long-grain variety developed by Bayer CropScience, part of the Bayer Group, contains a gene that makes it resistant to the herbicide Liberty, also known as glufosinate. While this type of rice never received approval, two very similar types did — though they have not been marketed.

European Commission said yesterday that it would ask Washington for more information and then decide what action to take on the unapproved rice. A Japanese newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, reported that Japan had suspended imports of long-grain rice from the United States, The Associated Press said.

American rice industry executives said Japan's imports consisted mainly of short- and medium-grain rice from California, and hardly any long-grain rice. The California Rice Commission said yesterday that it did not expect that the state's rice would be affected.

Riceland, which is based in Stuttgart, Ark., said the existence of a genetically engineered product in its rice was discovered in January by one of its export customers.

Riceland said that because genetically engineered rice was not grown commercially in the United States, it initially thought that a small amount of genetically engineered corn or another crop had been mixed in with rice, perhaps through the use of a common means of transportation.

But in May, Riceland said, the company collected rice samples from several grain storage sites and found positive results for the Bayer trait. Riceland said it then told Bayer, which confirmed the findings and said the modified rice was present at levels equivalent to 6 of every 10,000 grains. Bayer reported this to the government on July 31. Since then, Mr. Johanns said, the government has been working on the situation.

It is still unclear how the rice, which was last field-tested in 2001, entered the 2005 crop.

Rice growers said yesterday that the finding could be damaging as it came just as the harvest was beginning, and as prices for rice seemed set to rise because of demand. They called for more information.

"We need to know where it got started, how it got started, is it an isolated incident, how widespread it is," said Dwight Roberts, president of the United States Rice Producers Association. He said the Agriculture Department "has to move clearly and quickly and announce some policy on certification and testing."

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