FSA challenged in court over GM contamination

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Rice Gm

A pressure group plans to legally challenge the UK's Food Standards
Agency (FSA) over its alleged failure to act over imports of
illegal GM rice.

The Judicial Review, called for by Friends of the Earth (FoE), is due to be heard in court today. The case centres on the contamination of long grain rice with an experimental and GM strain grown in the US. On 18 August last year, the US Department of Agriculture announced that an illegal GM rice strain, unapproved for human consumption, had been found in long grain rice supplies destined for export. The rice, LLRICE601, owned by biotechnology company Bayer CropScience, has been genetically modified to be resistant to the company's weed killer, Liberty (glufosinate). The contamination was initially discovered in January 2006, but it wasn't until July that its identity was confirmed as LLRICE601. Friends of the Earth argues that the FSA failed in its legal obligations to check for contaminated rice on the market in the UK, and should have done more to work with local authorities and the food industry to make sure illegal GM rice was detected and removed from shelves and other parts of the market. The pressure group is seeking a legal declaration stating that the FSA failed in its legal obligations over this incident by failing to take action and by ignoring potentially contaminated rice that reached the market since January 2006. "A declaration stating that the FSA failed in its legal obligations would set an important precedent and ensure that if such a GM contamination incident happens in the future, the FSA would take much more effective action to ensure that UK consumers are not exposed to illegal GM ingredients,"​ said FoE in a statement. "It should also lead to a thorough investigation into the FSA's biased approach to GM foods and a more pro-active policy on testing food imports for illegal GM contamination." ​ This incident has had an impact on the rice industry. Rice futures prices plummeted $150 million and experts have predicted that US rice exports may decline by as much as 16 per cent in 2006/2007. Several multi-million dollar class action lawsuits and several individual lawsuits have been filed against Bayer by US farmers who have suffered severe financial losses. The rice industry has said that action has been taken. Last year, The European Federation of Rice Millers, which represents about 90 per cent of all EU trade in rice, gave an outline of the controls carried out by its members so far. Of the 162 samples for which there are already results using one of the validated testing methods, 33 tested positive for LL601, it said in September. Any consignments that tested positive have already been recalled or withheld from the market and the Federation's members have committed to continuing such withdrawals for any positive findings. The Commission has consistently reminded the industry of its legal obligation to inform Member State authorities when a consignment on their markets is found to contain an unauthorised GMO.

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