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Biotech Rice Shows Up In Commercial Supplies

Trace amounts are found in storage bins

by Bette Hileman
August 22, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 35

Trace amounts of an unapproved variety of genetically modified rice have been found in commercial supplies of long-grain rice. The unapproved rice was detected in storage bins in Arkansas and Missouri by the company that developed it, Bayer CropScience.

"The rice presents no human health, food safety, or environmental concerns," said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns when he announced the discovery on Aug. 18. He said he sees no need to recall the product.

The rice in question is designated LLRICE 601 and was field tested between 1998 and 2001. "The protein found in LLRICE 601 is approved for use in other products," Johanns said. For example, two rice varieties—LLRICE 62 and LLRICE 06—contain the same protein and have been found safe for human health and the environment, he said. The two have not been commercialized, though. The protein, called Liberty Link, confers resistance to glufosinate herbicide.

The Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service will be conducting an investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding the release and whether any violations of USDA regulations occurred.

Even though USDA and the Food & Drug Administration consider LLRICE 601 safe for human and animal consumption, Japan has already suspended imports of U.S. long-grain rice. The European Commission is trying to get more information from U.S. regulators before taking any action. The U.S. exports about half its rice crop.

Bayer CropScience has provided a testing method for LLRICE 601 for industry use.

Because of the unapproved release of LLRICE 601, some environmental and food safety groups are highly critical of USDA. "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 the 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."


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