UK deems LibertyLink rice safe for processing, animal feed

LONDON, UK, January 14, 2004 (ENS): The UK government has assessed an application by Bayer Cropscience Ltd for the import of genetically modified rice for processing and animal feed as complying with European Union requirements.

The European Commission was notified on January 7, and the application and the UK's assessment will now be studied by other EU member states before a collective decision is made.

Under EU law, all applications to import or cultivate genetically modified crops are initially assessed by the government to which they are originally submitted.

Consent, if granted, would not permit cultivation of the rice in the European Union nor, without separate approval, could it be used in human food.

The Bayer rice, LLRICE62, has been genetically engineered to be tolerant to the herbicide glufosinate, sold under the trade name Liberty. The commercial name of the planting seed is LibertyLink rice. Currently there is no commercial marketing of LibertyLink rice anywhere in the world but it is expected that varieties could be available for commercial production in 2004.

Opponents of genetically modified crops say they could irreversibly contaminate the environment by uncontrolled genetic combination with traditional crops. As food, critics say, they could trigger allergies and tests are unable to demonstrate that long term dietary exposure to them is safe for humans.

The UK government has been advised by its Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) that the LibertyLink rice, "Does not pose a risk to human health and the environment. The marketing of this product for importation and processing in the UK will be no different from that of other rice imported for processing and animal feed purposes."

Environment and Agri-Environment Minister Elliot Morley said, "Current EU legislation requires a case-by-case assessment of all applications on the basis of the scientific evidence - and that is what we have done. Our independent advisory committee has concluded that there are no safety based objections to this application. We will, however, be insisting as ACRE advises that, if marketing consent is given, it should be on the basis that there are more stringent post-market monitoring reporting requirements.

In 2001 in Texas, Aventis Cropscience, then manufacturer of LibertyLink rice, destroyed nearly five million pounds because it was worried that the herbicide resistant rice was not approved in Japan and other countries. Following this disaster, Aventis decided to get out of the transgenic food business and sold its Cropscience division to Bayer.

While approved for human consumption by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, LibertyLink rice was treated with glufosinate, an herbicide that has not been approved for rice, though it has been approved for corn, cotton, and rapeseed.

"Genetically modified food and products are available widely throughout the world," Morley said. "Only products which have met stringent health and environment tests will ever be on sale in this country - consumers can then choose whether or not to use them on the basis of the best information available."

If consent is subsequently given by the EU for import, the UK government is "insisting" on annual reports on post-market monitoring of this transgenic rice.

Any consent would be subject to strict requirements on traceability and labeling set out in new EU Regulations on genetically modified foods adopted in September and November 2003.

Although both regulations are now legally in force, their practical requirements will only apply to EU member states and to individual stakeholders from April 18, 2004. At the end of last year UK agencies held personal consultations with representative stakeholders on all practical aspects of their full implementation and are currently running a formal written consultation.

The UK's assessment, and ACRE's advice, are online at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/regulation/euconsent.htm

http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/jan2004/2004-01-14-19.asp#anchor2