The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today granted marketing approval of a genetically-engineered (GE) rice variety following its illegal contamination of the food supply and rice exports, first announced three months ago. The controversial decision was taken despite the insistence of its developer, Bayer CropScience, that it dropped plans to commercialize the variety, known as LibertyLink601 (LL601), five years ago.
“With this decision, USDA is telling agricultural biotechnology companies that it doesnt matter if youre negligent, if you break the rules, if you contaminate the food supply with untested genetically engineered crops, we’ll bail you out,” said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety. “In effect, USDA is sanctioning an ‘approval-by-contamination’ policy that can only increase the likelihood of untested genetically engineered crops entering the food supply in the future, and further erode trust in the wholesomeness of U.S. food overseas,” he added.
Mendelson also noted that USDA has still not determined how LL601 entered the rice supply or the extent of the contamination, and that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not undertaken a formal assessment of the rice, which is designed to survive direct spraying with the powerful herbicide glufosinate.
“Experimental, genetically engineered crops like LL601 are prohibited for a reason,” said Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst at Center for Food Safety. “Exhaustive testing is required to determine whether or not mutagenic gene-splicing procedures create human health or environmental hazards, and no one has done that analysis on LL601 rice,” he added.
In comments filed with USDA, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) opposed USDA’s consideration of Bayer’s petition for market approval of LL601 as an abuse of the regulatory process. CFS also blasted USDA for allowing Bayer to black out extensive portions of its petition as “confidential business information,” and demanded that it be released for public scrutiny and comment before any decision was made. CFS further noted that Bayer might exploit the approval to evade liability for an estimated $150 million in market losses suffered by U.S. farmers because of the episode.
The comments also spelled out the potential for LL601 to spread its herbicide-resistance trait to weedy red rice, making it more difficult for farmers to control.
LL601 is one of several ‘LibertyLink’ (LL) rice varieties that have been genetically engineered by Bayer to survive application of Bayers proprietary Liberty© herbicide. Liberty kills normal rice, but can be applied directly to LL varieties to kill surrounding weeds. This explains why Bayer had to obtain government approval to permit residues of the weedkiller on rice grains of its two approved versions of LibertyLink rice.
“Contrary to what you hear from the biotech industry, genetically engineered crops like LibertyLink rice mean more chemicals in our food, not less,” said Freese.
“USDA’s decision to approve genetically engineered rice that Bayer itself decided was unfit for commerce is the clearest sign yet that U.S. authorities are intent upon dismantling federal regulation of genetically engineered crops in the interests of the biotechnology industry,” said Mendelson.
“Center for Food Safety will consider all legal options to put an end to USDA’s ‘approval-by-contamination’ policy for new genetically engineered crops,” he added.
Mendelson further noted that since the contamination debacle was first announced on August 18, 2006, USDA has given Bayer the green light to conduct nine more outdoor field trials of new genetically engineered crops.
The Center for Food Safety