European consumers are at risk from unauthorized genetically modified (GMO) rice grown in China after evidence of a strain was found in Britain, France and Germany, two leading environment groups said on Tuesday.
The Chinese rice, modified to resist certain insects, was found in samples of rice stick noodles in France and Germany, and also in rice vermicelli in Britain, Greenpeace International said, citing the results of two rounds of laboratory tests.
Its report, compiled with Friends of the Earth Europe, did not indicate the possible quantities involved but said the GMO rice had been detected in different product brands found in Asian specialty stores and Asian restaurants.
Five samples out of 27 tested positive for the unauthorized rice strain, officials at the two groups said.
“Innocent consumers again become the victims of the GE (genetic engineering) industry’s ‘contamination first’ strategy,” Greenpeace International GMO campaigner Jeremy Tager said in a statement.
The Chinese rice contained a protein that might cause allergenic reactions in humans, he said. It was supposed to be used only in field trials and was not approved for commercial growing because of concerns about its safety.
Dutch company Heuschen & Schrouff, one of the importers cited in the report, said it was investigating the case and would check with its suppliers.
“We have no comment. This information is very new to us, we received it just half an hour ago. We import the products so we are checking with our suppliers. Our quality department is also involved,” commercial manager Bernard van Schaik told Reuters.
Heuschen & Schrouff Oriental Foods Trading BV says it is the market leading distributor of authentic Asian food and non-food in Germany, Austria, and the Benelux countries.
A spokesman for Seewoo Foods Ltd, Britain’s largest supplier of Chinese foods which was also cited in the report, was not immediately available for comment.
The discovery of the experimental rice comes just a few weeks after the European Union tightened requirements on U.S. long-grain imports to prove the absence of another biotech rice type detected in samples intended for commercial use.
The EU does not yet permit the sale, import or marketing of any biotech rice on the territory of its 25 member countries.
European consumers are well known for their wariness over GMO foods, but the biotech industry says its products are perfectly safe and are no different to conventional foods.
“Once illegal GE crops are in the food chain, removing them takes enormous effort and cost. It is easier to prevent contamination in the first place,” Tager said.
Last month the EU-25 tightened requirements on U.S. long-grain rice imports to prove the absence of the GMO strain LL Rice 601 marketed by Germany’s Bayer AG and produced in the United States.
The EU decision followed the discovery by U.S. authorities of trace amounts of LL Rice 601, engineered to resist a herbicide, in long-grain samples targeted for commercial use.
Additional reporting by Anna Mudeva in Amsterdam, Nigel Hunt in London
Jeremy Smith, Reuters