Rebuilding market share after GE rice backlash

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Rice

Strides have been made by the US rice industry to regain market share after genetically engineered traits were found to have mixed with conventional rice supplies, disrupting trade.

The USA Rice Federation said nearly all test results for the Southern long-grain rice crop for 2008 were negative for the presence of genetically engineered (GE) traits.

It comes two years after trace amounts of regulated GE rice (called Liberty Link) were found to have “commingled”​ with supplies of conventional rice, which led several trading partners to refuse US rice exports.

The worldwide costs resulting from the Liberty Link incidents, including loss of export markets, seed testing, elevator cleaning, and food recalls in countries where the variety of rice had not been approved, ranged from an estimated $741m to $1.285bn.

Federation chairman, Jamie Warshaw, said: “USA Rice Federation has led this issue at home and abroad, and continues to work to regain lost market share attributed to the Liberty Link issue.

“This remains a top priority for our industry.”

GE crops have potential for enhanced yields at a time of food insecurity where food manufacturers face volatile commodity prices.

However, opponents argue that not enough is known about the safety of GE crops and food, and that they should be more rigorously controlled.

Government agencies are tasked with restricting the growth or use of a GE crop so that it does not enter into the food supply and mix with varieties without being monitored, traced, or labeled.

But in response to the Liberty Link issue, the rice industry implemented a plan that required testing of rice seed prior to planting.

State authorities in Arkansas, which produces nearly 60 percent of the US long-grain crop, mandated that all seed planted in the state be tested. Louisiana, which is the second largest long-grain rice producing state, also tested its seed.

Now the federation said final tests for 2008 show that less than one tenth of one percent (99.9 percent) of the samples registered any Liberty Link presence.

It added: “That is a significant improvement over last year’s results in which long-grain rice samples were 99.5 percent Liberty Link free.”

Prevention measures

The FDA said that the low-level presence in food or feed of the regulated genetic material from these rice varieties did not pose any human health concerns.

However, they did impact the export market for US long-grain rice, which in recent years accounted for as much as 50 percent of total US rice sales.

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just published the results of an investigation into the issue and said there have been six cases of unauthorized release of GE crops into the food supply, including two Liberty Link incidents.

It recommends that government agencies overseeing the regulation of GE crops should do more to improve co-ordination and monitoring.

Related topics: Suppliers

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