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The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has this week declared that illegal GM rice found in the UK food chain eighteen months ago is "unsafe". In a letter to food companies the FSA advises them to recall any affected products that have reached consumers. The FSA will also shortly issue a food alert to local authorities with advice over what enforcement action they should take. Friends of the Earth welcomes this move - something the environmental organisation has demand in response to illegal GM contamination incidents.

The GM rice (Bt63) is an experimental variety genetically modified to produce an insecticide. It is not approved for human consumption or commercial cultivation anywhere in the world. The contamination in China stems back to 2005 and in September 2006, Friends of the Earth discovered two contaminated foods on sale in Asian specialty stores in London [1].

Scientific studies have raised raise concerns about the rice's risk to human health, particularly the potential to cause food allergies [2]. So little data on the rice exists that it is not even possible to carry out safety tests [3].

Friends of the Earth took the FSA to court last year over its failure to act over a similar contamination incident involving GM rice from the US [4]. In that case, the judge noted that the FSA should have issued a food alert to local authorities, something Friends of the Earth called for from the start of the incident. This decision to issue a food alert over Bt63 rice marks a shift in the way the FSA has responded to GM contamination incidents.

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

"We welcome the fact that the FSA is finally taking action over illegal GM rice. But it's outrageous that it took a court case and eighteen months since the contamination was first discovered in the UK to get there. In that time unquantifiable numbers of people have been exposed to this untested rice, with unknown health implications. The FSA must ensure local authorities carry out thorough testing to ensure that any contaminated foods are identified, removed from sale and recalled. It must also urgently introduce measures to prevent illegal GM ingredients entering our food in future".

For further information see Friends of the Earth and GM Freeze background briefing: www.gmfreeze.org/uploads/GM_Rice_Contam_final_edit.pdf (PDF€ )

Notes

[1] In September 2006, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace discovered that the illegal Bt rice had contaminated Chinese rice products in the UK
www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/ ¬
illegal_gm_rice_found_in_u_05092006.html

This contamination incident stemmed from field trials in China. In 2005 an investigation by Greenpeace found that research institutes and seed companies in China had been illegally selling unapproved GM rice seeds to farmers. 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.

However, new contamination incidents were reported in the EU in Autumn last year, which finally prompted the EC to put in place an Emergency decision on Bt63 rice, which will come into force on 15 April.

[2] 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

[3] FSA Draft minutes of Bt63 scoping meeting, 22 February 2008

[4] www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/ ¬
food_standards_agency_take_21022007.html

www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/ ¬
ruling_on_legal_challenge_23022007.html

If you're a journalist looking for press information please contact the Friends of the Earth media team on 020 7566 1649.

 

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