Friends of the Earth finds illegal US GM rice in UK supermarket

16 September 2006

EU Member States not doing enough to detect GM contamination

Brussels, 17 September 2006 - Illegal US genetically modified (GM) rice has been found on the shelves of a big UK supermarket, Friends of the Earth Europe revealed today. The environmental campaign group is calling for a full product recall and is mounting a legal challenge over the UK Food Standards Agency's woeful response to the contamination incident.

Helen Holder, GMO Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said, "The discovery of GMO-contaminated rice on supermarket shelves is extremely worrying. GM rice is illegal, it has not even been properly investigated and there is no guarantee that it is safe for human consumption. Any supermarket that discovers that its rice is contaminated must take immediate action and remove the products from its shelves."

Genetically modified material has been found in two samples of rice from the store Morrisons - the fourth largest supermarket chain in the UK, with nine million customers a week.[1]

Friends of the Earth sent a number of samples to be tested following August's food scandal, in which rice stocks in the US were found to be contaminated with an illegal GM strain. This GM variant is an experimental Bayer CropScience rice called LL601 that was grown at outdoor test sites in the US between 1999 and 2001. The rice has not been authorised for human consumption anywhere in the world. Indeed, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) admits that there is insufficient data on LL601 to be able to guarantee its safety.[3]

In response to the crisis last month, the European Commission introduced emergency measures to prevent imports of contaminated rice from the US from entering the EU, stressing that unauthorised GMOs must not enter the EU food and feed chain under any circumstances.[4] However, Friends of the Earth Europe has criticised the weak enforcement of these measures at a member state level.

The European Commission advised member states to carry out controls on products already on the market, but little testing of rice already in shops has actually taken place. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has even advised the food industry that this is not a health and safety issue and has indicated that it does not expect the food industry to test for contaminated rice, or to remove any contaminated rice from its shelves. [5] The response of the FSA to the crisis is so inadequate that Friends of the Earth in the UK is mounting a legal challenge against it. Friends of the Earth has written a formal legal letter to the FSA, which is the first step of legal action.[6]

"National food safety authorities and food companies should be rigorously testing samples at each stage of the supply chain, in order to detect all incidences of contamination with genetically modified rice. It should not be left to civil society groups like Friends of the Earth to raise the alert." Ms Holder added.

Friends of the Earth Europe would like detailed information about the exact testing that is being conducted in each member state and insists that this information should be made publicly available. The environmental group also suggests that any positive contamination results should be publicised immediately.

"This latest contamination incident highlights that the biotechnology industry is unable to keep its crops under control. The EU must respect the Polluter Pays principle and make industry cover the costs of testing and product recalls. It is not up to consumers and taxpayers to foot the bill for illegal contamination." Ms Holder concluded.

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NOTES
[1] http://www.nfuonline.com/x9464.xml , http://www.morrisons.co.uk/40.asp

[2] Testing was carried out by an independent laboratory. It reveals that two Morrisons samples are contaminated with GM traits. There is no GM rice approved in the EU, so any presence of GM rice is illegal. The test does not confirm that the GM contamination is LL601.

The affected products are:
Morrisons American Long Grain Rice 500g, Best before May 2008 Morrisons American Long Grain Brown Rice 1kg, Best before: Jul 2008

[2] Letter available from Friends of the Earth

[3] http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press_room/press_release/llrice601.html

[4] European Commission press release

[5] Statement from Tilda rice - available from Friends of the Earth Europe

[6] Letter available from Friends of the Earth Europe

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