GM rice unlikely to pose health threats, says EFSA

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

The genetically modified LLRice62 poses no evident harm to humans,
animals or the environment, according to the European Food Safety
Authority (EFSA).

German chemicals company Bayer CropScience applied for the placing of the GM rice on the market for food and feed uses, but not for cultivation, in August 2004. Following extensive scientific assessment, the Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms has now released its opinion. "LLRice62 is unlikely to have any adverse effect on human and animal health or on the environment in the context of its intended uses,"​ said the report. The European Commission will now put the decision on whether the rice will be made available on the European market in the hands of the relevant committee. The genetic modification intends to provide tolerance to the herbicide glufosinate ammonium. The EFSA board concluded that the labelling proposal in the application is also in line with the EU requirements, saying that GM LLRice62 is compositionally and phenotypically equivalent to its non-genetic equivalent except for the introduced traits. Spokesperson for Beyer, Annette Josten, told FoodNavigator.com: "We are pleased with the recent announcement. We believe that our herbicide-tolerant rice could contribute significantly to increasing rice productivity in certain global markets, both in terms of quality and yield." ​ Despite the opinion from EFSA, it may be some time before the rice appears on the market - if at all. Adeline Farrelly, communications director at EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, said that such decision-making processes can prove lengthy. She said: "There are many products that have gained approval worldwide but that are still stuck in the European system. These are traders' crops and so the slow process causes problems for them and results in a shortage of supplies forEurope." ​It is already approved for import and cultivation in the US and Canada, but has not been commercialised there. The committees often have difficulties reaching a majority decision, as with the issue on the European Commission proposal to lift Austria's restrictions on the import and processing two types on GM maize - MON 810 and T25. The last GM product to be approved for cultivation in Europe was in 1998. Some genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been approved since then for import, but only very slowly. Farelly added: "We believe the Commissionshould accept it responsibility and sort out the backlog of products waiting for approval."​ Earlier this year, Greenpeace filed a petition against the use of Bayer's LLRice62 for food, animal feed and processing. Green agencies have concerns about the unknown impact GMOs may have on the environment, particularly in regards to cross-contamination. "The long term effects of GM crops have not been properly researched and, by cross-pollinating with non-GM crops and wild plants, they replicate themselves and contaminate the environment with genetic pollution that is impossible to clean up,"​ said Greenpeace. Friends of the Earth Food campaigner Richard Hines said: "Time and time again consumers have made it clear that they don't want to eat GM food. But if Bayer's LLRice62 is given approval, people acrossEuropewill face the prospect of finding GM rice on their plates." ​He added: "Switching to GM has been disastrous for many farmers, but a green light inEuropewould give Bayer the go-ahead to push for GM rice cultivation in the developing world. It is therefore vital that Commission doesn't forget the worldwide health, environmental and social impacts of their decision."

Related topics: Europe, Safety, Grains, Regulation

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