Open Letter 24th August 2006
URGENT COMMUNICATION FROM GM FREE CYMRU
TO COMMISSIONERS DIMAS, KYPRIANOU AND MANDELSON
24th August 2006
We are writing to protest about the belated and totally inadequate response of the EC to the latest GM food contamination incident, in which American rice destined for export and human food consumption has been found to be contaminated with the unauthorised GM variety LL601. You may be in no doubt that thousands of tonnes of export rice are involved here, from all five of the southern rice-producing states. Statements from the spokesman for Riceland to the New York Times (1) make it clear that the Rice Producers Association is very worried, and that the scale of the pollution will be revealed gradually by a process of drip-feed -- exactly what happened with the Bt10 fiasco last year.
You appear (2) to be following exactly the same line as you did last year over Bt10, by (a) politely asking the US Administration for more information; (b) stating that all future rice import cargoes from the US will have to be accompanied by certification stating that tests have been done and that the cargoes are free of LL601; (c) seeking information from Bayer and the US authorities on a validation test which can be conducted in approved laboratories and checked by JRC and CRL; and (d) assuming that national authorities will carry out controls on products already on the EU market, to ensure that they are free from the unauthorised GM rice
We understand that the EC is frightened by those nasty people at the WTO and in the American administration, and is afraid of taking actions that might be construed as "disproportionate", but unlike the Japanese you appear to be oblivious to the true scale of this problem. We haver already criticized you for complacency and for apparently conniving in the contamination of essential food supplies (3), and we now share the concerns expressed by Greenpeace International that your actions lack leadership and are reactive rather than proactive.
Please take note of the following:
1. Long-grain rice is a staple food crop worldwide, and it is used in unprocessed and slightly processed form in a wide range of food products including babyfoods. Do you realize the significance of that statement? (4)
2. The contamination was discovered in export silos, suggesting to us that it may well have been destined for the European market (Japan takes mostly short and medium grain rice from California). You tell us that 20,000 tonnes of US long-grained rice comes into the EU each month-- that means 240,000 tonnes per year. Even if only a small proportion of that is contaminated, that adds up to massive contamination in the human food supply system.
3. LL601 was abandoned by Bayer five years ago as a failed variety, and if it has appeared now on a substantial scale as a contaminant it is absolutely certain that it must have been present in US exports of long-grain rice over the past five years. That means that it is already on the shelves of European supermarkets. We suspect that Riceland and Bayer have picked up positive test results before, probably on an increasing scale year-on-year, but that the scale of positive results has now become so large that the contamination could no longer be kept secret.
4. With respect to a testing protocol for LL601, we are sure that Bayer will connive with a chosen laboratory to devise a test guaranteed to provide false negatives, and will refuse to provide accurate data to EFSA and JRC on the genetic character of the variety in question. If the company does send reference materials to JRC, it will ensure that these materials will "validate" the test method but will not indicate any changes that might have occurred in the variety over the five years 2001-2006. This will be an exact repeat of the situation that arose over Bt10 -- and we remind you that Syngenta has treated the EC with utter contempt by refusing to supply the materials repeatedly requested by Dr Van den Eede and his colleagues over the past 18 months (5). We predict that you will be manipulated in exactly the same way by Bayer in this case.
5. With respect to your hope that EU national authorities will conduct border controls and also test for contaminated rice already on supermarket shelves, we fear that nothing will happen quickly, if at all. In the UK, GM Freeze's survey of Port Authorities and Trading Standards Offices showed that either have the capacity to test for illegal GMOs -- they don't have the gene sequences, the equipment, the money, the staff or the willingness to do anything. Within the UK. there was so much buck-passing last year between DEFRA, FSA, ACRE and ACNFP that nobody could work out what was happening; there was some testing for Bt10, very belatedly, but there was so much complacency and indecision that we were forced, in the end, to complain to the Secretary of Health about criminal negligence on the part of FSA.
6. We are aware that EFSA is looking at Bayer’s LLRICE62, which supposedly contains the same modified protein as the unauthorised LL Rice 601 in question (6). EFSA will no doubt conclude that LLRICE62 is perfectly safe, and will put out a statement to the effect that LL601 is also safe. That, if it happens, would be a grossly negligent and indefensible action, since neither EFSA nor anybody else knows the genetic makeup of LL601 or the changes that have inevitably occurred since 2001. Novel proteins created through GM are unpredictable in their behaviour, and are uniquely dangerous.
7. We concur with the statements made by Greenpeace and other NGOs that this episode shows a complete breakdown of the US regulatory system, with USDA and the US Dept of Agriculture culpable (7). GM contamination is spiralling out of control in the US, with the tacit agreement of USDA, and it is time that the EC recognized this.
We gather that food safety experts from across Europe are meeting on Friday 25th August to review the actions taken thus far. In our view these actions are wholly inadequate, and in the light of the new revelations concerning the scale of LL601 contamination and its dangers for human health, the EC must forget about export-point certification and immediately ban all rice imports from the US pending full disclosure of all the facts pertinent to this case. That would NOT be a disproportionate action: after all, your prime responsibility, as we have reminded you on many previous occasions, is the protection of public health within the EU.
In view of the seriousness of this situation, we are treating this communication as an Open Letter and will circulate it widely.
Dr Brian John GM Free Cymru
(1) http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/22/business/22rice.html?_r=1 Unapproved Rice Strain Found in Wide Area By ANDREW POLLACK Published: August 22, 2006 New York Times
(2) Commission Question and Answers: http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=MEMO/ 06/310&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en
Commission Press Release: http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/ 06/1120&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en
(4) http://www.wholesomebabyfood.com/cereals.htm#What%20type%20of% 20Rice%20do%20I%20use%20for%20Homemade%20Rice%20Cereals http://www.cowandgate.ie/ASP/show_subject.asp?id=500
(5) http://europa.eu.int/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=MEX/ 06/0404&form at=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en
(6) http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=MEMO/ 06/310&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en
(7) The USDA complacency should come as no surprise. In a recent case in Hawaii, a US district judge called USDA's regulatory heedlessness "arbitrary and capricious" and "an unequivocal violation of a clear congressional mandate." That echoes similar conclusions reached by the USDA's own auditors last year. After reviewing two years of records, the auditors concluded that the agency's biotechnology regulators overlooked violations of their own rules, failed to inspect sites and did not ensure that genetically engineered crops were destroyed after field trials. In some cases, regulators did not even know the locations of trials.