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EU promises measures against gene-altered rice

The European Union promised measures to protect consumers against an unapproved, gene-modified rice made by Bayer CropScience AG, which was found in commercial US rice supplies. Bayer detected trace amounts of the long-grain rice variety, known as LLRICE 601, in commercial US samples. Bayer field-tested the modified rice from 1998 to 2001, and it tainted the 2005 crop. In response to a similar incident last year, the EU halted US imports of corn-based animal feed for 10 days. Antonia Mochan, a spokeswoman for the EU's regulatory branch, said the goal is “to ensure that European consumers are not exposed” to unauthorized genetically modified products. “The measures we will take will be with that overall objective in mind,” she said. Mochan said a decision is expected tomorrow, without providing details. Genetically modified foods have run into public resistance within the 25-nation EU. The environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth yesterday urged European Commission regulators to impose a ban on US rice imports as a result of the contamination. Rice futures in Chicago yesterday fell 2.6%, the most in more than nine months, on speculation that demand for US supply will be hurt because stockpiles in Arkansas and Missouri were mixed with the unapproved gene-altered supplies. Rice futures for November delivery yesterday are down 25 cents, or 2.5%, at $9.59 per 100 pounds on the Chicago Board of Trade.

Japan suspended imports of US long-grain rice on Aug. 19 after the trace amounts of the unapproved gene-modified variety were found. Shipments to Japan will resume once cargoes are shown to be free of the unapproved variety, Masayoshi Urakawa, an official at Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said yesterday. Most of the rice Japan imports from the US is the medium-grain variety, he said. Mochan, the European Commission spokeswoman, told a regularly scheduled news briefing in Brussels yesterday that officials were seeking further information from the Bush administration. “We'll take the measures which are required to protect European consumers,” Mochan said. Bayer, based in Leverkusen, Germany, modified LLRICE 601 rice to resist weed killer, and two similar varieties have received US approval, according to the US Department of Agriculture. The EU on April 15, 2005, blocked imports of corn-based animal feed after Syngenta AG accidentally allowed planting in the US of an experimental corn known as Bt10. Ten days later, the EU approved a test to detect the unauthorized type of gene modified corn, allowing a resumption of imports of US corn-based animal feed worth as much as 350 million euros ($448 million) a year. Syngenta, the world's biggest maker of crop chemicals, mistakenly allowed Bt10 to be planted over 37,000 acres in four US states after confusing the variety with another genetically modified crop, Bt11, which is approved in the US and Europe. (Bloomberg)