EC blocks 'illegal' GM rice imports from US

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Rice European union

The EC adopted a decision this week requiring imports of long grain
rice from the USA to be certified as free from the unauthorised GMO
LL Rice 601.

The decision has been taken in light of the recent announcement by the US authorities that this unauthorised GMO had been found in samples of commercial rice on the US market.

The presence of LL Rice 601 was first notified to the European Commission by the US authorities on 18 August. The emergency measures adopted by the Commission this week mean that, with immediate effect, only consignments of US long grain rice that have been tested by an accredited laboratory using a validated testing method and accompanied by a certificate assuring the absence of LL Rice 601, can enter the EU.

"We have strict legislation in place in the EU to ensure that any GM product put on the European market has undergone a thorough authorisation procedure based on scientific assessment,"​ said Markos Kyprianou, European commissioner for health and consumer protection.

"There is no flexibility for unauthorised GMOs - these cannot enter the EU food and feed chain under any circumstances. The measures we have taken today will ensure that unauthorised GM rice is not inadvertently imported."

The USA is one of the major suppliers of rice to the EU. The EU imports approximately 20.000 tons of long grain husked, semi-milled and wholly-milled rice from the USA per month on average.

In fact, the US provides about 12 per cent of world rice trade. In 2005, 80 per cent of rice exports were long grain varieties.

Other major suppliers of rice to the EU are India, Thailand and Guyana.

Apart from highlighting how much the EU relies on the US for its rice, the issue also demonstrates just how stringent the EU's rules on GM food are.

Although US authorities have said that the unauthorised GM rice in commercial rice is not dangerous "there is no human health, food safety, or environmental concerns associated with this GE rice,"​ said the USDA in a statement - the EU regulations are set in stone.

The measures adopted this week will enter into effect immediately, and are expected to be reviewed after 6 months.

This is also an issue for ingredient importers and national governments. Member states are responsible for controlling the imports at their borders and for preventing any contaminated consignments from being placed on the market.

In addition, business operators importing rice from the USA also have responsibility for ensuring that LL Rice 601 does not enter the EU food chain and that imports are certified as free from this unauthorised GMO, in accordance with the EU food law principle that operators are responsible for the safety of the food or feed that they place on the market.

Currently no GM rice is authorised in the EU for food and feed use or for cultivation or import. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is currently examining one application for authorisation, Bayers LL Rice 62. This contains the same modified protein as the unauthorised LL Rice 601 in question.

More than 100 varieties of rice are commercially produced primarily in six states (Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and California) in the US. According to estimates for the 2006 crop year, rice production in the U.S. is valued at $1.88 billion, approximately half of which is expected to be exported.

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