Judicial Review favours FSA in GM contamination case

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Rice, Gm, Fsa

A High Court judge has ruled that the UK's Food Standard Agency
(FSA) did not act unlawfully in its failure to act over illegal GM
rice that entered the UK food chain late last year.

The ruling, announced on Thursday, came after Friends of the Earth (FoE) called for a Judicial Review in relation to the case. 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. According to the environmental pressure group, 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. However, last week's review was in favour of the regulatory agency, although the judge did highlight a number of mistakes the FSA had made in dealing with the emergency. The FSA, which said it was "pleased"​ with the judgement, committed to carrying out an internal review of how it handled the GM emergency and to take on board the criticisms of the judge. FoE GM campaigner, Clare Oxborrow said although the organization was "disappointed"​ that the Judge did not find the FSA had acted unlawfully, it was pleased that he recognised that it had made a number of mistakes in its handling of the situation. These mistakes meant that local authorities, the public and retailers were not given information about which rice products were found to be contaminated with illegal GM ingredients. According to Oxborrow, the FSA must make sure its internal review is "open and honest and that the mistakes made are not repeated in the future." ​ 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.

Related topics: Food safety and labeling

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