Illegal GM rice found in European food

Posted: 7 September 2006

Food products illegally contaminated with genetically modified (GM) rice from China have been discovered in the UK, France and Germany, environmental agencies have revealed.

Products found to contain illegal and untested genetically engineered rice.© Greenpeace / John Cobb
Products found to contain illegal and untested genetically engineered rice.© Greenpeace / John Cobb
Products found to contain illegal and untested genetically engineered rice.© Greenpeace / John Cobb
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. Further contaminated products were found in France and Germany. But, this could be the tip of the iceberg with rice products included in everything from baby food to cosmetics.

Experimental variety

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 . No GM rice is approved in Europe, although Bayer has applied to import GM herbicide resistant rice into the EU.

Tjhe environmental NGOs want the Food Standards Agency to recall products contaminated with the GM rice and 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.

They alsowant to see the introduction of routine testing to ensure that products contaminated with illegal GM material do not enter Europe's food chain as well as 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."

Field trials

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.

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.

GM in supermarkets

A separate survey by Friends of the Earth reveals that most animal products sold in supermarkets, including milk, cheese and meat, come from animals fed on GM feeds. But consumers are not aware of what they are buying, with five out of 10 supermarkets failing to tell customers when food comes from animals fed on genetically modified feed.

The results come as a new GfK NOP Omnibus poll for Friends of the Earth and GM Freeze found that 87 per cent of the public think that foods from animals fed on a GM diet should be labelled. Animal products produced using GM feed are currently exempt from labelling requirements.

Friends of the Earth surveyed the 10 main supermarkets' policies on GM animal feed. The results showed that supermarkets providing the fewest non-GM fed options were Budgens, which only sources non-GM fed poultry and pork, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Iceland and Somerfield, which only source non-GM eggs, poultry and farmed fish (Morrisons additionally provides non-GM fed New Zealand lamb).

Marks & Spencer had the widest selection of non-GM fed products including fresh milk, meat, poultry, eggs and fish. Sainsbury's, the Co-op and Waitrose source a number of non-GM fed products but could do more.

Source: FOE September 4 and 6, 2006.

For more detailed information, visitwww.foe.co.uk or www.greenpeace.org