Archived press release
Illegal GM rice found in UK

Food products illegally contaminated with genetically modified (GM) rice from China have been discovered in the UK, France and Germany, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace revealed today.

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have notified authorities of their discovery and are calling on European governments to take urgent action to protect consumers from any health risks posed by the experimental GM rice, which has not been cleared for human consumption and may cause allergic reactions.

This is the second illegal GM contamination incident involving rice to hit Europe over the past few weeks. Last month the European Commission was forced to introduce emergency measures to prevent US rice, contaminated with a different experimental GM strain, from entering the food chain.

The environmental campaign groups bought samples of rice products such as noodles and rice sticks from Asian specialty stores in London. The foods were tested by an independent laboratory. Three rice noodle samples imported from China tested positive for GM rice [1]. Further contaminated products were found in France and Germany [2]. But, this could be the tip of the iceberg with rice products included in everything from baby food to cosmetics.

The illegal GM rice is an experimental variety genetically engineered to produce an insecticide. It is not approved for human consumption or commercial cultivation anywhere in the world. Scientific studies raise concerns about the risk to human health of eating the rice, particularly the potential to cause food allergies [3]. No GM rice is approved in Europe, although Bayer has applied to import GM herbicide resistant rice into the EU.

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are calling for:

  • The Food Standards Agency to recall products contaminated with the GM rice;
  • The European Union to put in place urgent measures to ensure no further contaminated rice enters the EU and a programme of testing on existing products on the shelves.
  • The introduction of routine testing to ensure that products contaminated with illegal GM material do not enter Europe's food chain;
  • A global ban on field trials and other efforts to commercialise GM rice until effective containment systems and detection regimes are in place.

Friends of the Earth's GM Campaigner Clare Oxborrow said:

"This latest illegal GM contamination scandal shows that the biotech industry cannot be trusted. How many more foods around the world have been contaminated by unlicensed GM crops? Urgent action is needed to tackle this latest incident, and measures must be introduced to prevent illegal GM ingredients entering our food in future."

"This incident also highlights the threat that GM crops would pose to our food, farming and the environment if they are grown in the UK, either commercially or in outdoor trials. The Government must ensure that tough rules are in place before any GM crops get the green light, and sort out who is liable for any contamination that they cause. The simplest solution would be to keep Britain GM-free."

GM campaigner for Greenpeace International, Jeremy Tager said:

"Innocent consumers have again become the victims of the GM industry's 'contamination first' strategy. A group of rogue scientists pushing for the approval of GM rice in China leaked the illegal seeds to the market and have created major genetic contamination. Once illegal GM crops are in the food chain, removing them takes enormous effort and cost. It is easier to prevent contamination in the first place, if the biotech industry and the governments involved genuinely want to do so."

This latest contamination incident stemmed from field trials in China. The GM rice involved is not currently approved for commercial growing, yet an investigation by Greenpeace in 2005 found that research institutes and seed companies in China had been illegally selling unapproved GM rice seeds to farmers [4].

In 2000, a similar contamination case in the US with the unapproved GM maize Starlink led to a global product recall and billion dollar compensation.

Notes

[1] Guangdong Rice Vermicelli, Rice Vermicelli Amoy (Xiamen) and Kongmoon Rice Stick tested positive for Bt insect resistant rice. They were bought from two shops in Chinatown.

[2] See background briefing 'Illegal experimental GE Rice from China: Now entering Europe's Food chain' www.greenpeace.org.uk/ge-rice-brief

[3] The toxin detected is either the Cry1Ac protein, or a fusion Cry1Ab/Cry1Ac protein.

A 1999 study partly sponsored by the US Environmental Protection Agency found evidence to suggest that the Bt protein Cry1Ac can elicit antibody responses consistent with allergic reactions in farm-workers and a series of studies published in 1999 and 2000 by a Cuban researcher Vasquez-Padron on Cry1Ac documented immunogenic responses to which indicate the potential for allergic reactions or other immune system responses www.humboldt.org.ni/transgenicos/docs/what_experts_says_human_effects.pdf (PDF)

Three independent scientists with expertise in the field of GE and health have issued a statement backing the health concerns raised. The statement is available from Greenpeace.

[4] Further testing indicated that the whole food chain had been contaminated, with the most recent case being the contaminated Heinz rice cereal baby food in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. The Chinese government, in the wake of the situation, reportedly punished seed companies and destroyed illegally grown GM rice crops. For more information see the background briefing in [2] above.


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Published by Friends of the Earth Trust