Illegal GM rice update: 5 October 2006
Thursday 5 October 2006
The Food Standards Agency attended a meeting on 3 October 2006 with the US authorities and the European Commission to discuss the contamination of US long grain rice with genetically modified (GM) material, LLRICE601.
The US authorities provided information on the testing regime for consignments of long grain rice that are exported to the EU, to certify they are free of GM material.
The meeting followed reports from the Dutch authorities that some consignments of long grain rice from the USA had tested positive for the illegal rice, despite being certified in the USA as GM free. All consignments that have arrived in the UK from the shipment that gave some positive results in the Netherlands have been retested and found not to contain GM rice.
The Commission and the US authorities are in discussion over sampling and testing protocols to agree improvements that will reduce the possibility of contradictory results and provide a high level of confidence across the EU that imports are free from GM. In the meantime, the Food Standards Agency has been informed that there may be some interruption to the supply of American long grain rice to the UK and other European countries.
UK imports of bulk consignments of unmilled rice are sent to mills for processing before they can be used in food. The Agency is co-ordinating testing of US long grain rice held at eight mills in the UK for LLRICE601. Samples have been collected from the mills and are currently being analysed. The results will be reported and published by the Agency shortly.
After the contamination of rice first came to light on 21 August, the Agency sought the view of members of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) on the safety implications of the GM material. Members of the committee considered the data available at that time and advised that, on the basis of the evidence, the presence of low levels of this GM material in the food supply is not a health concern.
Since then, experts at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), who are responsible for assessing the safety of GM foods for authorisation in the EU, have taken into consideration additional information not available in August and published an opinion on the safety implications of the GM contamination.
EFSA said there is insufficient information on which to complete a full risk assessment, as would need to be carried out for the authorisation of new GM foods. Although EFSA has recognised there is some uncertainty, it concluded, on the basis of current evidence, that rice containing these trace levels of GM material is not likely to pose an imminent safety concern. The Agency accepts the conclusion reached by EFSA. This advice supersedes the earlier interim advice obtained by the Agency in consultation with members of the UK advisory committee ACNFP.
The Agency has reconsidered and updated its advice to retailers regarding rice contaminated with GM material in the light of the EFSA risk assessment. The Agency had previously advised retailers that it would not be proportionate to track down and remove all products from sale that contain LLRICE601 because they were not thought to pose an imminent risk to health.
However, the law states that no unauthorised GM material should be present in food on sale in the UK. Therefore the Agency is reminding food businesses of their responsibility to ensure that food they sell complies with the law. Any rice known to be contaminated with GM material is illegal and should be removed from sale.
Now that EFSA has given its opinion on the safety implications of the trace levels of GM material that could be present in long grain rice, the Agency has reconsidered its advice to the public. The Agency has decided that its advice remains the same. If consumers have US long grain rice at home they can continue to eat it.