Government regulation for GM contamination of rice is clearly not working, according to the California Rice Commission, which has called for a moratorium on GM field testing in the state.
The industry body said that the moratorium would allow for an opportunity to evaluate federal regulations that safeguard the rice industry.
The announcement comes after the discovery in August of trace levels of genetic material unapproved for commercialization in long grain rice seed outside of California. The state's rice industry reacted by conducting a review of the impacts on markets and potential impacts on commercially grown rice in California.
But following the announcement by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) within recent weeks that two additional GM traits had been discovered in a variety of long grain rice, the California rice industry voted for a moratorium to evaluate the federal regulations that are the basis for all GM rice research in the state.
The group said it wanted to see a suspension of "field testing of all genetically modified rice cultivars in the State of California for the 2007 crop, and for future crops, until such time as research protocol and safeguards are acceptable to the California Rice Commission (CRC)."
"Based on the events of the last few months, it is clear that the federal regulatory
process is not working for rice. It is imperative that those systems are evaluated and approved," said Frank Rehermann, chair of the CRC board.
Earlier this month, APHIS issued 'emergency action notifications' preventing the planting and distribution of a long-grain rice seed from BASF because it may contain genetic material not yet approved for commercialization.
The variety, Clearfield CL 131, was not developed as a genetically engineered product. However, BASF's own testing revealed that the variety may have been contaminated with a genetically modified strain. The firm notified the USDA of its findings, which are now due to be verified by further tests conducted by APHIS.
The regulatory agency will also conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the release and whether any violations of USDA regulations occurred.
The US rice industry also suffered a major disruption last year, after Bayer Crop Sciences in July notified the USDA that it had discovered trace amounts of an unapproved GM rice in samples of commercial rice seed.
The GM contamination - involving the GMO LL Rice 601 variety - sparked a flow of reactions against the firm and the US rice export market. Such limits on rice exports had an immediate impact on US farmers, who retaliated with a flood of lawsuits against Bayer.
CRC said California has tested its public seed four times since August, all with non-detect results for Liberty Link varieties LL601, LL62 and LL06. None of the GM events in question are present in California, and commercial production of GM rice is currently not occurring in California or elsewhere in the US, it said.
"As a precautionary move to further reassure it markets of the integrity of state's rice, the AB 2622 Advisory Board, as authorized by the California Rice Certification Act, has adopted the requirement that all California rice variety owners submit samples for laboratory testing and confirm a non-detect status to approve those varieties for production in California during the 2007 crop year," said the group in a statement.
Passed in 2000, the California Rice Certification Act provides direction and establishes measures that enable the industry to regulate new rice variety introductions and research within the state.