Bayer seeks backward compatibility on GMO rice; tell USDA to say no

A Slashdot reader tipped us off that according to FoodNavigator, a European food news website, Bayer Crop Sciences has belatedly petitioned the USDA to approve ("deregulate") LL Rice 601, its genetically modified rice variety that has caused a commotion in Europe and Asia by cross-contaminating non-GMO rice. Several countries have since banned the import of all U.S. long-grain rice, causing the price to fall and hurting all American rice producers. Some are suing Bayer.

One of several rice lines developed by Bayer and marketed under the brand name LibertyLink, LL Rice 601 was engineered to tolerate the herbicide glufosinate ammonium. Two similar lines with the same herbicide-tolerant protein were approved by the USDA in 1999.

So what's the big deal? Bayer has not proven that LL Rice 601 can be safely produced commercially, because apparently it had no plans to market this particular variety — until it accidentally showed up in the world's rice. Whoops! So now, after the fact, it's asking the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to deregulate 601 based on the studies it did for the two previous lines.

According to the USDA's press release, APHIS says "The scientific evidence indicates there are no environmental, human health or food safety concerns associated with this GE rice."

Call us paranoid, but this is the same APHIS that recently got spanked by a federal judge for allowing genetically modified crops to be planted on hundred of acres in Hawaii without testing their effect on indigenous crops — plants that had been modified to produce human hormones, drugs and ingredients for vaccines against AIDS and hepatitis B. So we're far from reassured by their "scientific evidence." Surely the fact that it so easily cross-contaminated the other rice is a cause for environmental concern? Maybe a study of all these rice lines potential for escaping genetically into the wild should be better studied?

The USDA is seeking comment on Bayer's petition. Tell them you think the company should be censured for its failure to control its genetically modified experiments, not rewarded at the expense of consumers and law-abiding rice producers everywhere. Comments may be submitted via the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov/; enter
APHIS-2006-0140 into the keyword search form.

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