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GM Freeze Welcomes Judge’s List of Mistakes in FSA Handling of GM Rice

Immediate release (23 Feb 2007)

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341065/01226 790713

GM Freeze has welcomed acknowledgement of a High Court judge that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) had made mistakes in the way they handled the contamination of US long grain rice imports with an unapproved GM traits last summer. The campaigning group is calling upon the FSA to break their close relationship with industry and for Parliament to take far greater interest in the operations of the Agency.

In a Judicial Review brought against the FSA by Friends of the Earth, Justice Calvert-Smith ruled that the food safety watch dog had not acted illegally in failing to require local authorities and companies to take action to verify that all contaminated rice which was already in the retail and catering supply chains had been traced and removed from sale (22nd February). However, in his ruling the judge identified three mistakes in the way the FSA had dealt with the contamination incident. These were their:

  • Failure to issue any Food Alerts to local authorities.
  • Failure to notify the public of which batches of rice were contaminated.
  • Failure to provide legal guidance to local authorities at the start of the incident

The FSA have agreed to hold an internal review on how it handled the GM rice contamination incident.

The contamination of US long grain rice with GM rice, known as LL601, was discovered in January 2006 but the EU authorities were not informed until mid August. The GM rice had been grown in test sites in the USA between 1998 and 2001 but had not received any approval for commercial growing anywhere in the world. It was illegal to sell the rice in the EU. The dossier of safety data required for a commercial approval was not complete and therefore the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) were unable to complete a full safety assessment and to say, with certainty, whether the GM rice was safe to eat.

Initially, the FSA announced there were no public safety issues [1] associated with the LL601 but latter revised their advice following the EFSA’s opinion which acknowledged the lack of data. Minutes of private meetings between the food industry and FSA showed that the FSA were advising companies that it did not “expect contaminated products already in the food supply chain to be removed from sale” and “does not expect companies to trace products and remove them from sale’ [2].

Over five weeks (21st and 25th September) after the GM contamination was first announced, GM Freeze supporters were able to buy batches of contaminated rice from Morrisons’ store in Taunton. GM Freeze reported these purchases to Somerset Trading Standards but no legal action was taken.

In January 2006 GM Freeze published a report of a survey on how well the GMO traceability and labelling regulations were being enforced and warned the FSA that the UK was open to future GM contamination incidents [3].

Commenting on the outcome of yesterday’s case Pete Riley Campaign Director of GM Freeze said:

The FSA were well aware of the risk of further GM contamination and that the UK was ill equipped to deal with such incidents so the judge’s critcisms of their handling the GM rice case are fully justified. The next contamination incident could involve crops genetically modified to produce drugs or vaccines. The FSA’s review of their handling of this case must include a substantial input from outside and the outcome and evidence must be published in full. In our view, Parliament needs to take a more active role in overseeing the performance of the FSA to ensure that they become a true consumer watchdog and that they break their cosy relationship with industry.


Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341065/01226 790713

1. FSA press release 1st September 2006.
2. Food and Drink Federation minutes of a meeting with the FSA.
3. See GM Freeze report here.