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Belgium: EU Urged To Reject GM Rice

by Stefania BianchiInter Press Service
March 23rd, 2004

Leading environmental groups are urging the EU to reject a new strain of genetically modified rice.

Member states have until Sunday (Mar. 28) to object to an application by the German-based Bayer Cropscience to import the strain LL Rice 62 into the European Union (EU).

Friends of the Earth (FoE) and Greenpeace have expressed concern about health and environmental effects the GM rice could have.

The environment groups say the EU's 15 member states must reject the GM rice to prevent the world's most important staple food falling into the hands of multinational companies. Rice is staple diet for an estimated 2.5 billion people.

EU approval would send a dangerous signal to developing countries and could lead to the eventual corporate takeover of one of the world's most important foods, the two organisations said in a joint statement Tuesday.

The rice has been modified to resist the herbicide glufosinate ammonium. A foreign gene taken from a bacterium is inserted via genetic engineering into rice to produce LL Rice 62. This makes the rice tolerant to glyphosinate ammonium, a toxic weed killer also produced by Bayer.

A farmer can then spray glyphosinate ammonium the whole growing season. This would kill other plants but not the GM rice crop.

One of the NGOs' main concerns about such herbicide tolerant crops is the impact that a changed herbicide regime would have on wildlife in agricultural areas.

FoE says that the dispersal of transgenes into wild rice, non-GM rice would be of particular concern in those areas which are centres of agricultural biodiversity, such as India.

If such a crop gets commercialised, more of the harmful glyphosinate ammonium will be sold and end up in the environment, Geert Ritsema, GM campaign coordinator for FoE told IPS.

GM rice is a serious threat to rice biodiversity and thus to the livelihood of millions of farmers in Asia, said Eric Gall from Greenpeace. Not only does it risk contaminating European rice-producing regions, but key questions about its safety have not been answered. Member states bear a huge responsibility and should swiftly reject this authorisation to import GM rice.

This is the first time a company has asked for GM rice authorisation in Europe. Within the EU Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal and France grow rice.

FoE and Greenpeace say no long-term studies have been carried out on the GM rice to examine its effect on health.

The EU authorities must take the assessment of this rice extremely seriously - - and ensure that it is completely safe for consumption as a large proportion of the diet -- because this assessment will affect people not just in the EU, but around the world, the NGOs said in their statement.

Such a move would give the green light to multinationals to promote the unsustainable farming of this rice in developing countries, Ritsema said.

Food safety expert Devinder Sharma from India says that control over rice is steadily passing into the hands of transnational corporations based in Europe and the United States, which use unfair patenting practices and genetic manipulation of food.

He warned of daylight robbery of genetic wealth by European and U.S. corporations in developing countries.

GM food cannot eradicate hunger, Sharma told media representatives here. It is not a question of production, but of distribution and access.

Bayer Cropscience declined to comment on the NGOs' objections.

GM food is showing signs of advance into Europe. Last week European commissioner for health and consumer protection David Byrne said that the EU will soon approve a genetically modified crop variety.

The United States has challenged an EU ban on genetically modified foods. European farm ministers are due to meet next month to consider lifting the ban and allowing a new biotech sweetcorn variety to be sold.

New EU labelling and traceability requirements have cleared the way for GM products, Byrne said.

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