|Italy finds GM rice: Health Ministry/Rice rows in Britain and Ireland (22/9/2006)|
1.Italy finds unauthorized variety of genetically modified rice in imports: Health Ministry
"It's a very serious episode. We need more checks and rules to safeguard consumers' health." - Italy's Health Minister, Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio (item 1)
"Having a former director of a biotech industry lobby group in charge of Ireland's food safety is not acceptable." - Michael O'Callaghan (item 3)
"This is not just a problem with American rice, for it is clear that there could also be GM contamination of rice and other crops from other regions." - Clare Oxborrow (item 2)
1.Italy finds unauthorized variety of genetically modified rice in imports:
Italy has found an unauthorized genetically modified variety of rice in shipments from North America, the Health Ministry said.
The ministry said it carried out checks after being alerted by U.S. diplomatic authorities.
It found that four samples included the Liberty Link Rice 601, a genetically modified variety developed by Bayer CropScience AG in the United States. It was testing three more batches, the ministry said in a statement late Thursday.
The European Union allows only genetically modified foodstuffs that have been evaluated and authorized to be placed on the EU market. Liberty Link is not among them and also is not approved for human consumption in the United States.
"It's a very serious episode," Health Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio was quoted as saying in Corriere della Sera on Friday. "We need more checks and rules to safeguard consumers' health."
The Health Ministry said that the contaminated rice will be taken off supermarket shelves and either be destroyed or sent back.
On Thursday, the EU alerted officials in Britain, France and Germany that some of the genetically modified long-grain rice may have entered their nations. Brussels also said it would reinforce controls.
Dutch officials found traces of Liberty Link Rice 601 in shipments that arrived in the port of Rotterdam last month.
2.Britons eating GM rice as watchdog fails to test imports
Official watchdogs have admitted that a huge gap in the policing of food imports allowed GM rice to end up on the nation's dinner tables.
Millions of families are believed to have been eating American imported long-grain rice tainted with GM genes for at least eight months.
Supplies of rice sold by Morrisons are known to have been contaminated and have recently been withdrawn.
Tesco also withdrew its own-label American rice amid concerns it may be contaminated, while Sainsbury's has had to find alternative sources for its ready meals.
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. For the tainted rice will have been used in many other processed foods.
The Food Standards Agency,(FSA) which is responsible for policing the food system, yesterday admitted there has been no official state testing regime to prevent GM contamination of food imports.
Instead, retailers are expected to make sure their products are not contaminated. This failure has allowed GM tainted rice and possibly many other contaminated crops to be imported into the UK.
The government watchdog said it now intends to hold talks with the European Commission to improve GM testing.
The US authorities discovered GM contamination of long-grain rice in January this year, but it did not tell Britain and the rest of the world until August - eight months later. During this period GM tainted rice continued to be sold and eaten.
The FSA is now testing all new rice imports. However, it has left the testing of products on the shelves to voluntary action by retailers.
The watchdog's handling of the issue has been condemned as scandalous by politicians and green campaigners.
They point out that the risk of illegal GM contamination of rice and other food crops was entirely predictable. And they argue the FSA has failed in its duty to prevent this law-breaking.
The Conservative shadow food, farming and environment Secretary, Peter Ainsworth MP is particularly critical.
"The FSA is meant to be a custodian of public health and consumer interests in relation to food. Yet their reaction to the news that GM rice has been on sale in the UK seems astonishingly casual," he said.
"The point is that we don't know if this rice is harmful or not." Friends of the Earth GM campaigner, Clare Oxborrow, said: "It is quite shocking that there is not a system in place looking for GM contamination of imports. It should have been in place a long time ago.
"The FSA should not be reduced to scrabbling to deal with the problem now. That is only shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
"This is not just a problem with American rice, for it is clear that there could also be GM contamination of rice and other crops from other regions."
The biotech industry is now developing a raft of new GM crops containing pharmaceuticals.
Peter Riley, of the GM Freeze organisation, warned that failure to check crop imports could allow food containing GM drugs to get on to plates. "If that happened, it would have very wide implications for public health," he said.
The FSA's chief scientist, Andrew Wadge, admitted gaps in knowledge about the food on our plates at an FSA board meeting in London yesterday.
He said: "Are there things out there in the food that we don't know about? I think the honest answer is, 'Yes, sometimes there can be.'"
Mr Wadge accepted that the GM rice contamination had highlighted the gap in testing of imports. And he said the FSA would be raising this with the European Commission.
"This incident has raised questions as to what are the opportunities for this type of thing to happen again in future," he said.
"This has shown, this is a possibility that could occur. Rather than being in a reactive mode, what we need to do across Europe is to discuss and make sure we have in place appropriate testing methodology."
The FSA insist the trace levels of GM contamination found in the UK are not a health risk, however this is disputed.
3.Illegal GMO rice cover-up by EFSA and Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI)
The GM-free Ireland Network has written to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) demanding why American GM long grain rice is still on sale in Ireland even though GM rice is illegal in the EU and all US long-grain rice imports are banned in Japan and Swizerland. The letter can be downloaded at http://www.gmfreeireland.org/rice/GMFI-FSAI1.pdf
The unapproved rice contains virus DNA suspected of causing pre-cancerous growth in animals, and bacterial DNA for resistance to glufosinate ammonium weedkiller, a neurotoxin linked to birth defects.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and FSAI (whose CEO Dr. John O'Brien is a former director of the International Life Sciences Institute biotech industry lobby group) claims there is no health risk, even though the EFSA GMO panel said there is insufficient data to justify this claim, and Bayer is refusing to release a secret dossier that might well show that LL601 is genetically unstable and dangerous.
The illegal GM rice was found in Tesco, Aldi, and Morrisons stores and has probably been sold by most retailers and consumed for years by millions of people. Kellogs Rice Krispies, Gerber baby food, and Anheuser-Busch beer could also be contaminated.
Representatives of major Irish retailers who attended a briefing on the issue by the FSAI yesterday said the FSAI has not required them to conduct their own tests or to recall suspect products.
The EU admitted yesterday that some of 12 US rice consignments certified as GM-free were also contaminated, so the certification system is a total farce.
GM-free Ireland coordinator Michael O'Callaghan has asked the FSAI to ban all imports of US long-grain rice and to recall all US long-grain rice from stores pending further investigation of this massive food safety scandal.
He said "Dr. John O'Brien's ties to the biotech industry present a clear conflict of interest. Having a former director of a biotech industry lobby group in charge of Ireland's food safety is not acceptable."
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