USDA to Rubber-Stamp Contamination of Food with Illegal, Genetically Engineered Rice (10/9/2006)

USDA to Rubber-Stamp Contamination of Food with Illegal, Genetically Engineered Rice Banned in Japan and Europe
U.S. Dismantles Regulation of Genetically Engineered Crops to Serve Interests of Biotechnology Industry
Press Release - Center for Food Safety

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today initiated fast-track market approval of an illegal, genetically-engineered (GE) rice variety that has contaminated long-grain rice throughout the South, throwing rice markets into turmoil and potentially causing harm to consumers and the environment. Bayer CropScience developed the rice, known as LL601. Bayer field-tested LL601 from 1998-2001, but for unknown reasons never applied to USDA for market approval.

Though LL601 is illegally present in rice supplies, and has not undergone meaningful reviews for potential health or environmental impacts, U.S. authorities have failed to recall LL601-contaminated rice supplies or food products. In contrast, Japan has banned U.S. long-grain rice imports, and the European Union is testing all U.S. rice shipments and rejecting those that contain LL601.

Bayer is now asking USDA to grant retroactive market approval of the illegal rice, even though the company gave up plans to market LL601 in 2001 and it remains untested.

"Illegal, potentially hazardous rice in grain bins, on supermarket shelves, in cereal, beer, baby foods, and all rice products. It should be a no-brainer – recall this stuff to make sure no one eats it," said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety. "Instead, USDA plans to rush through 'market approval' of a genetically engineered rice that Bayer itself decided was unfit for commerce. Why? To free Bayer from liability."

"Experimental, genetically engineered crops like LL601 are prohibited for a reason," said Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst at Center for Food Safety. "Exhaustive testing is required to determine whether or not mutagenic gene-splicing procedures create human health or environmental hazards, and no one has done that analysis on LL601 rice," he added.

LL601 is one of several 'LibertyLink' (LL) rice varieties that have been genetically engineered by Bayer to survive application of Bayer’s proprietary Liberty© herbicide. Liberty kills normal rice, but can be applied directly to LL varieties to kill surrounding weeds. This explains why Bayer had to obtain government approval to permit residues of the weedkiller on rice grains of its two approved versions of LibertyLink rice.

"Contrary to what you hear from the biotech industry, genetically engineered crops like LibertyLink rice mean more chemicals in our food, not less," said Freese.

"USDA's bid to approve - rather than recall – an illegal, genetically engineered contaminant in the food supply is the clearest sign yet that U.S. authorities are intent upon dismantling federal regulation of GE crops in the interests of the biotechnology industry," said Mendelson.

LL601 was first detected in U.S. rice by an export customer of Arkansas-based Riceland Foods in January 2006. According to Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Richard Bell, LL601 has been detected in virtually all milled long-grain rice supplies that have been tested. USDA announced the contamination debacle seven months later, on August 18th, when U.S. 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.

In 2001, Bayer purchased Aventis CropScience, the company responsible for multimillion dollar food recalls due to massive contamination of U.S corn supplies with genetically engineered StarLink corn. StarLink was unapproved for human consumption due to concerns it could cause food allergies.

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.

September 8, 2006

Joe Mendelson, 202-547-9359 x12
Bill Freese, 202-547-9359 x14


Release No. 0345.06


WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2006 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking public comment on a petition to deregulate a rice genetically engineered (GE) to be tolerant to herbicides marketed under the brand name LibertyLink. In 1999, after thorough safety evaluations, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) deregulated two similar LibertyLink rice lines. Under petition, APHIS would extend its deregulation from the original two lines to include the rice line known as LLRICE601.

On Aug. 18, USDA announced that trace amounts of this regulated GE rice were detected in samples taken from commercial long grain rice. A review of the scientific data by USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded that there were no human health, food safety or environmental concerns associated with this GE rice.

The petition for deregulation, submitted by Bayer CropScience, is in accordance with APHIS' regulations concerning the introduction of GE organisms and products. APHIS has prepared a draft environmental assessment (EA) for LLRICE601. The scientific evidence indicates there are no environmental, human health or food safety concerns associated with this GE rice.

Notice of this action is scheduled for publication in today's Federal Register. USDA is seeking comment on the petition and invites comments on the EA. Consideration will be given to comments received on or before Oct. 10. Send an original and three copies of comments to Docket No. APHIS-2006-0140, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, Md. 20737-1238. Comments may be submitted via the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov/

Comments are posted on the regulations.gov web site and may also be viewed at USDA, Room 1141, South Building, 14th St. and Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C., between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. To facilitate entry into the comment reading room, please call (202) 690-2817.

Rachel Iadicicco (301) 734-3255
Kristin Scuderi (202) 720-4623

Go to a Print friendly Page

Email this Article to a Friend

Back to the Archive