Inconsistencies in the way food authorities have responded to contamination of US-grown long-grain rice by an illegal GE varient has prompted a call for the Ombudsman to become involved.
While New Zealand authorities has rejected calls to test for illegal LL601 GM rice or withdraw at-risk products, the UKFSA has ordered a withdrawal of all LL601 rice from supermarket shelves.
LL601 was engineered by Bayer Crop Science but discontinued in 2001 without any public explanation. It has never been safety-tested for human or animal consumption by any governmental authority.
The LL601 contamination has caused Japan and Europe to stop all long grain imports of rice from the USA unless proof is provided that the shipment is not contaminated.
Last week the European FSA said that the LL601 was "not an imminent safety risk". However in a surprise turn around they have now reversed their decision and are calling all supermarkets to withdraw imported US long grain rice from the shelves saying they have "new information" .
"The NZFSA must implement immediate testing of US imported rice and the costs should be carried by the company which holds the patent of the contaminating-rice. We are concerned at the lack of scientific rigour signalled by a refusal to test or remove product, and angered that the costs could end up being socialised onto the public," says Claire Bleakley of GE Free (NZ) in Food and Environment .
GM LL601 is an illegal contaminant yet it is understood FSANZ may not even have seen the full range of existing data or the application papers for approval, let alone data from independent tests. There are still no diagnostic tests to see if ingestion of this or other GM products is causing illness.
New Zealand Government Ministers have dismissed the request by GE Free NZ to test for and recall all at-risk rice as "shroud waving". Ministers have even gone so far as to have misled the public by saying this GM rice is tested and proven safe.
The US State Agriculture Secretary Richard Bell told a meeting on Capitol Hill that rice that tests positive for the genetically modified protein (LL601) would go into markets "that aren't objecting." Meanwhile Greenpeace reports finding extensive contamination of foods in the Middle East in common every day US brands.
"It is extremely disturbing that senior ministers are agreeing to the dumping of illegal GM produce on overseas markets that don't "object", and that New Zealand may be one such fall-guy if consumers are kept in the dark," says Claire Bleakley.
"We are calling on our Ministers to make clear our national policy which rejects illegal produce on sale in the New Zealand market."
GE Free NZ (in food and environment) has just recieved notice that the Ombudsman is looking into the LL601 rice issue after GE Free NZ wrote to them expressing concerns over the handling of the case by the NZFSA and their inconsitant approach relative to overseas authorities in Japan and Europe.
Claire Bleakley ph: (06) 3089842, mob: 027348 6731
Jon Carapiet: PH 0210 507 681
(1) Press Association / Guardian, UK, 6 OCt 2006 Stores told to remove GM rice from shelves
(2) Agri chief says European Union rejection of rice hurting farmers
Arkansas News, USA, by Betsy Turner 6 Oct 2006
(3) GE Technology out of control: Greenpeace discovers contamination from Bayer's Genetically Engineered Rice in Middle East
Greenpeace Press Release, OCTOBER 10 2006
Notes to editors:
1. The following samples were found to contain traces of Bayer's illegal LL601 GE rice when tested at an independent laboratory.
Uncle Ben's long grain rice: Purchased at Geant supermarket Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Riceland Chef-way, preboiled rice: Purchased at Carrefour supermarket,Dubai, UAE
Riceland, preboiled rice: Purchased at Geant supermarket Dubai, UAE
American Rice, INC, parboiled rice: Purchased at City Center supermarket Salmiya, Kuwait
2. China, Indonesia, India, Laos, Nepal, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam
Ombudsman Letter private correspondance