Another Food Safety Concern: GM Rice

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

There are so many reasons why we should be cautious about GM crops and the huge potential effects on humans whether it be through cross contamination/pollination or yet unknown impacts on the physical body. We still know next to nothing about long term effects of eating GM products and I imagine that this particular area of science is not being thoroughly investigated by the numerous biotech companies whom, supposedly in the name of prevention of starvation for the Third World countries, allow a small band of multinationals to control the sale and distribution of the seed-stocks across the world.

I am writing this diary because an acquaintance of mine, who is the head chef in a fashionable Indian restaurant in London, related this story to me a few months ago. Last week he found more evidence of GM rice (Bt63) in wholesale suppliers. Even though this rice is banned in Europe it seems that it keeps finding its way into Asian eateries. It might have entered the food chain in the US. Always check the labels.

Cross-posted on the Big orange and our blog, La Vida Locavore.

Bt63 genes have been detected in foodstuffs in China and Europe since 2005. The illegal GM genes were found in a number of specialty rice products (such as rice sticks, vermicelli and noodles) in the UK, France, Germany and Sweden in September 2006. Google tells me that in 2007 the UK imported nearly 1,000 tonnes of these rice-based pasta products from China.

We’re told the European Commission has introduced emergency measures to prevent rice products contaminated with unauthorized GM material from China entering the EU food supply, as efforts to curtail the problem in the country of origin prove ineffectual. However this stuff abounds.

Some background on the Bt63 rice:

Bt63 is the name of a type of rice that has had genes inserted into it, making it a type of GM rice. Bt crops have a gene from a common soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt), that produces natural toxins that act as insecticides. The Bt bacterium itself is approved for use on crops, and can be used in organic production. When a gene from Bt is put into a plant cell it gives the plant the ability to produce the same insecticide that the Bt bacterium itself produces. The purpose of doing this is to produce insect-resistant plants that require fewer pesticide sprays to grow and produce crops.

Bt63 was developed at the Huazhong Agricultural University in China and has not been approved anywhere in the world for commercial growing although doing a bit of Googling it seems that Bayer (Concerns have been expressed that the GM protein in Bt63 rice could cause allergic reactions, but the European Food Safety Authority has been unable to assess its food safety risk because of lack of data on the GM crop.

The Chinese authorities announced measures to address the problem in 2007, including sampling and testing and an official Chinese Inspection and Quarantine Certificate. Despite this, the presence of some material containing Bt63 was still being reported in some countries this year.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

“We welcome the moves to remove products contaminated with Bt63 rice from the market, but why has it taken so long? The EU and FSA have been aware of the contamination in Europe for 18 months, and now they tell us the GM rice is “unsafe”. Why the delay? We have no idea how many people might have been exposed to contaminated products. We are concerned that immune system or allergic reactions could occur in people eating them. The EU seems to have been too reliant on the Chinese authorities to deal with the contamination, but they have failed to do so. This case provides another warming about how easy it is to contaminate food with GM and how difficult it is to clean up the mess afterwards. Businesses affected by this incident should be compensated as soon as possible, and the EU should seek recompense from the Chinese Government.”

What is the status of Bt63 rice?

While there are many Bt crops around the world that have been approved as foods, this particular type, Bt63, has not had a safety assessment. Bt63 produces a fusion protein Cry1Ab/Cry1Ac which offers resistance to certain pests. The Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac proteins are already in some approved GM crops, but the combined form of these two proteins has not been assessed for safety. Food for thought indeed. The good news is that Bt63 may not be availaable in the US but LL601 is! What? Another type of GM rice?

Greenpeace on LL601:

The company responsible for the global contamination is Bayer, which ended field trials of the LL601 variety in the US five years ago. So far in 2006, this unapproved and illegal variety has been found in at least 24 countries. Last week contamination was announced in several countries in Africa. How small scale field trials in the US resulted in global contamination of rice supplies is still not known. Many countries including the EU, Russia and Japan have responded with import restrictions, and recent export figures show serious declines in US long grain rice sales.

 

Bayer has opened shop in Thailand. Expect Thai GM rice in the future.

SUPHANBURI, Thailand – Bayer CropScience is aiming to help make a “second green revolution” possible in Asia by developing new, high-yielding varieties of rice. The new development center, situated at the heart of Suphanburi, a rice growing region north of Bangkok, rounds out the company’s involvement in rice in the Asia Pacific region. Bayer CropScience opened a rice research laboratory in Singapore in June this year.

Although there is some opposition. But they too can be bought. The following excerp is from 2006. As for their website, it does not exist anymore, well, except this.

New Delhi, India – The All India Rice Exporters Association on Tuesday filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court demanding a ban on GE crops in India, even as rice producers from Thailand and Vietnam, together the world’s biggest exporters, announced their commitment to growing only GE-free rice. The two countries account for more than half of all the rice traded in the world market today and will put mounting pressure on other rice producing nations to commit to a GE-free rice supply.

My question is why are GM foods not subject to the same stringent research and processes that pharmaceuticals are prior to release to the marketplace? Another obvious one is why is there not as much money being spent on researching organic agriculture or on soil health?

In 2005 Pyrne and Lembke looked at all the in vivo (live animal rather than test tube based) feeding studies looking at the impacts of GE foods on human health. Of the 10 they found at that time, all 5 independent studies found significant indications of impacts on human health. A similar concern can be found here.

And speaking of GM issues, an international environmental lawyer has accused Monsanto of not going far enough to protect its growers against crop failures or possible legal disputes.

Duncan Currie, who’s been practicing for 20 years and advises corporations and governments on environmental issues, says the company’s contractual agreements are very one-sided.

He says GM farmers need more protection in case a non-GM farmer sues because of cross-contamination.

“At the end of the day, the only liability that Monsanto is prepared to accept is for the price of the seed. Now that would obviously dwarf any potential cost or liability the farmers may have anywhere from crop failure to liabilities for contamination to other farmers. And, in fact, the farmer that plants the seed is actually indemnifying Monsanto, so if there is a contamination event caused by negligence of the farmer or some sort of breach Monsanto can point to, the farmer only has to pay Monsanto.”

Welcome to this Brave New World.

2 comments

    • RiaD on November 14, 2008 at 12:34 am

    this info SO needs to get out to the public.

    thank you for bringing it here.

Comments have been disabled.