Info Service on Health Issues (December 06/05)
American GM rice found in Africa
presence of illegal genetically modified (GM) rice in commercial rice
imports from the US has found its way to many countries, the latest
being Ghana and Sierra Leone. Tests initiated by Friends of the Earth
the environmental group, show contamination in long grain rice with
LL RICE 601 believed to have originated from food aid from the US of
which Africa is a major recipient. The following report describes the
situation and the measures taken across the globe to stem the menace.
is reproduced with the permission of South-North Development Monitor
(SUNS) # 6155, 5 December 2006.
GM rice found in Africa, actions taken across world
By Chee Yoke Heong
and Lim Li Ching, Kuala Lumpur, 1 December 2006
The controversial genetically modified (GM) rice - LLRICE601 - has been
found in long grain rice originating from the United States in both
Ghana and Sierra Leone, the main African recipients of American rice
as commercial imports, according to the environmental group, Friends
of the Earth (FOE).
This is the latest in a series of findings of the presence of the illegal
genetically modified variety in rice imported from the US. The US government
announced in August 2006 that traces of the unapproved GM rice had been
detected in samples of commercial rice seed, and may have entered the
food and feed supply in the US. Since then, action has been taken by
governments or supermarket chains in several European countries and
Japan to restrict sales or to test rice imported from the US.
In September and October, FOE in Ghana and Sierra Leone collected samples
of US long grain rice in their countries and sent them for testing to
an independent laboratory in the US with a validated testing method
for LLRICE601. The results show that there is LLRICE601 contamination
in Ghana and Sierra Leone.
"We are shocked that unapproved genetically modified long grain
rice has been sent to our country through food aid channels," commented
Arthur Williams, a GM campaigner with FOE Sierra Leone.
FOE Africa has called on African governments to halt untested long grain
rice food aid and commercial imports from the US. It is also urging
the recall of the contaminated products.
In 2002, African countries such as Zambia rejected GM corn as food aid
even though they were in a situation of food shortages.
LLRICE601 is genetically modified to tolerate a herbicide called glufosinate.
In August this year, LLRICE601, an experimental variety not approved
(or deregulated) for commercial cultivation in the US at that time,
was found in the food chain, and has since appeared in many other countries
including in Europe and Japan, none of which have approved LLRICE601
for human consumption.
Though LLRICE601 is confirmed to be present in the two West African
nations, it is believed that the contamination could have also affected
other countries in the West African sub-region and beyond.
In the case of Sierra Leone, GM rice has also reportedly been found
in rice imported from other countries such as Vietnam.
Ghana is among the top 10 importers of rice from the USA. Its imports
of US rice have steadily climbed from 78,900 metric tonnes (MT) in 2001/2002
to 166,400 MT in 2004/2005.
Rice in general is an important staple for Africans and the continent
is the second largest regional importer of rice in the world. Among
the world's top importers of rice in Africa are Nigeria, South Africa,
Senegal and the Ivory Coast.
There is concern that the contamination could have also originated from
food aid from the US of which Africa is a major recipient.
Such worries are not unfounded as contamination of the food supply by
GM crops or products is real. Last year, an unapproved GM corn, Bt 10,
was found to have contaminated food and feed exports from the US. In
Latin America, contamination of the food chain through food aid was
established when an illegal corn strain, Star Link (a variety of GM
corn authorized in the US for animal feed purposes only), was found
there in 2002 and 2005.
When news that LLRICE601 was found in the food chain surfaced, both
Europe and Japan reacted quickly and strongly despite the efforts by
US officials to assure the public at large that the unapproved variety
posed no threat to humans or animals, as they claimed that the level
of contamination was miniscule. This was despite no known efforts to
evaluate the safety of LLRICE601 with a thorough risk assessment.
Japan reacted immediately by temporarily suspending all imports of US
long-grain rice. More recently, it expanded its testing of US rice for
the unapproved strain, previously limited to long-grain rice and its
products, to short-grain and medium-grain rice.
Major supermarket chains in Germany, Switzerland, Ireland and Norway
have removed American rice from their shelves while France's main distributors
have taken steps to assure consumers that all contaminated products,
including packets of rice and cooked meals containing rice had been
recalled. In Russia, the authorities had stopped issuing quarantine
permits for US rice, effectively suspending US rice imports.
The GM industry was further hit when the world's largest rice processing
company - Ebro Puleva - stopped importing US rice into Europe due to
the threat of contamination. The company controls 30% of the European
In the UK, Friends of the Earth found traces of illegal GM rice in samples
of rice from a supermarket. It has since taken the first step in bringing
a legal challenge against the UK Food Standards Agency for its failure
to take appropriate action to prevent illegal GM rice from being sold
to the public.
Like Japan, the European Union (EU) also acted quickly on the news of
the contamination. On 23 August, the European Commission (EC) adopted
a decision requiring all consignments of US long grain rice to be tested
to ensure that they do not contain LLRICE601.
These emergency measures mean that consignments of US long grain rice
will not be allowed into the EU unless they have been tested by an accredited
laboratory using a validated testing method and are accompanied by a
certificate assuring the absence of LLRICE601.
On 6 November, the EU tightened its controls further by introducing
obligatory testing at all ports of entry into the EU to ensure shipments
are free of LLRICE601 rice. This followed the discovery of LLRICE601
in shipments that were certified as free of the variety.
The economic fallout from the contamination incident has severely affected
American rice farmers, exporters and the food industry. Coupled with
the rejection of their rice products, the farmers watched helplessly
as the prices of their rice continued to drop. Following the announcement
in August, the September rice futures prices on the Chicago Board of
Trade sank 14% to $8.47 a hundredweight. The prices farmers can expect
for their rice dropped by more than $1 per 100 pounds.
The situation is best summarized by a Chicago lawyer quoted in the Washington
Post newspaper: "The damage has been done and it is still being
done. They've really in a very substantial way poisoned the well."
In the last few days, Greenpeace has revealed that LLRICE601 has also
been detected in the Philippines' food chain, making it one of the latest
victims in a series of GM rice contamination scandals around the world.
The current situation has also prompted rice producers from Thailand
and Vietnam, together the world's biggest exporters of rice, to come
together to announce their commitment to grow only GM-free rice in a
new Memorandum of Understanding signed last week. The two countries
account for more than half of all the rice traded in the world market
The global food industry is now facing massive costs associated with
GMO (genetically-modified organism) contamination, including testing
costs, product recalls, brand damage, import bans, and cancelled imports
and contracts. Millions of dollars of class action suits have been filed
against Bayer CropScience, the developer of LLRICE601, by affected rice
farmers in the US, for losses caused due to the contamination. They
are seeking, among other things, compensation for damage incurred from
the falling rice prices, which they believe will be permanent, as well
as for potential loss of markets.
A few plaintiffs are also seeking an injunction requiring the company
to clean up the contamination caused by the GM rice.
Though the US has since retrospectively deregulated (approved) LLRICE601,
it remains illegal elsewhere. This latest development sparks concern
that the US government may give the signal that it is sanctioning contamination
that could lead to the increased likelihood of untested GM crops entering
the food supply in the future.
It also raises questions about the ability of the current US regulatory
system to address the potential environmental, human health, and socioeconomic
consequences of experimental GM crops. Critics believe that the current
system does not help prevent contamination by GM crops, but rather results
in more instances of contamination by untested substances.
This latest case of contamination of the global food chain by an illegal
GMO reaffirms the urgent need for biosafety regulations and enforcement
at the international and national levels.
Given the cross-border implications of the contamination, there is also
an urgent need for the completion of the international regime on liability
and redress currently being negotiated under the United Nation's Cartagena
Protocol on Biosafety.
Equally urgent is the need to implement a decision of the Protocol which
places the responsibility on the exporting countries to segregate and
test GM commodities before export, in order to ensure that GM-free shipments
are maintained and that any unapproved GMOs are detected before shipment.
This is important especially for developing countries, as many will
find it difficult and costly to test incoming rice shipments from the
US. Requiring the exporter to provide certification issued by an accredited
laboratory showing that a shipment does not contain LLRICE601 is one
way of ensuring that the burden of proof falls on the exporter.
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