The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today initiated fast-track market approval of an illegal, genetically-engineered (GE) rice variety that has contaminated long-grain rice throughout the South, throwing rice markets into turmoil and potentially causing harm to consumers and the environment. Bayer CropScience developed the rice, known as LL601. Bayer field-tested LL601 from 1998-2001, but for unknown reasons never applied to USDA for market approval.
Though LL601 is illegally present in rice supplies, and has not undergone meaningful reviews for potential health or environmental impacts, U.S. authorities have failed to recall LL601-contaminated rice supplies or food products. In contrast, Japan has banned U.S. long-grain rice imports, and the European Union is testing all U.S. rice shipments and rejecting those that contain LL601.
Bayer is now asking USDA to grant retroactive market approval of the illegal rice, even though the company gave up plans to market LL601 in 2001 and it remains untested.
“Illegal, potentially hazardous rice in grain bins, on supermarket shelves, in cereal, beer, baby foods, and all rice products. It should be a no-brainer – recall this stuff to make sure no one eats it,” said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety. “Instead, USDA plans to rush through ‘market approval’ of a genetically engineered rice that Bayer itself decided was unfit for commerce. Why? To free Bayer from liability.”
“Experimental, genetically engineered crops like LL601 are prohibited for a reason,” said Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst at Center for Food Safety. “Exhaustive testing is required to determine whether or not mutagenic gene-splicing procedures create human health or environmental hazards, and no one has done that analysis on LL601 rice,” he added.
LL601 is one of several ‘LibertyLink’ (LL) rice varieties that have been genetically engineered by Bayer to survive application of Bayer’s proprietary Liberty© herbicide. Liberty kills normal rice, but can be applied directly to LL varieties to kill surrounding weeds. This explains why Bayer had to obtain government approval to permit residues of the weedkiller on rice grains of its two approved versions of LibertyLink rice.
“Contrary to what you hear from the biotech industry, genetically engineered crops like LibertyLink rice mean more chemicals in our food, not less,” said Freese.
“USDA’s bid to approve - rather than recall - an illegal, genetically engineered contaminant in the food supply is the clearest sign yet that U.S. authorities are intent upon dismantling federal regulation of GE crops in the interests of the biotechnology industry,” said Mendelson.
LL601 was first detected in U.S. rice by an export customer of Arkansas-based Riceland Foods in January 2006. According to Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Richard Bell, LL601 has been detected in virtually all milled long-grain rice supplies that have been tested. USDA announced the contamination debacle seven months later, on August 18th, when U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns professed ignorance as to how much rice was contaminated, which rice products were involved, or where the contaminated rice was found.
In 2001, Bayer purchased Aventis CropScience, the company responsible for multimillion dollar food recalls due to massive contamination of U.S corn supplies with genetically engineered StarLink corn. StarLink was unapproved for human consumption due to concerns it could cause food allergies.
Since 1996, the USDA has granted at least 48 permits authorizing Bayer or companies it has since acquired (Aventis, AgrEvo) to plant over 4,000 acres of experimental, genetically engineered (GE) rice. The extent to which pollen or grains from these field trials have contaminated commercial rice or related weedy species such as red rice is unknown. USDA policies do not provide for the testing of fields adjacent to field test sites to detect possible contamination with the experimental genetically engineered crop.