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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

lllegal GM Rice “Unsafe” Says FSA

Immediate release (27 Mar 2008)

Calls to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341 065

Rice products imported from China contaminated with the unapproved and illegal GM trait Bt63 have been confirmed as “unsafe” by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

In a letter to food regulators and the food industry sent on 26 March, the FSA state:

The Agency takes the view that the unauthorised GM material is ‘unsafe’ as defined in Article 14 of Regulation (EC)178/2002 and that food business operators should inform enforcement authorities if such rice has left their possession, initiate procedures under Article 19 of Regulation (EC) 178/2002 to withdraw it and to recall it if has reached consumers.

The EC regulations define food as “unsafe” if it is a) injurious to health or b) unfit for human consumption.

Bt63 was developed at the Huazhong Agricultural University in China and has not been approved anywhere in the world for commercial growing. Concerns have been expressed that the GM protein in Bt63 rice could cause allergic reactions, but the European Food Safety Authority has been unable to assess its food safety risk because of lack of data on the GM crop. The FSA will issue a Food Alert on Bt63 shortly.

Bt63 genes have been detected in foodstuffs in China and Europe since 2005. The illegal GM genes were found in a number of speciality rice products (such as rice sticks and noodles) in the UK, France, Germany and Sweden in September 2006. In 2007 the UK imported nearly 1,000 tonnes of these rice-based pasta products from China. [1]

In February the EU issued an Emergency Decision, which comes into force on 15 April, to prevent further import and distribution of rice and rice products contaminated with Bt63. Any presence of Bt63 would mean it would be illegal to market the products in question.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

We welcome the moves to remove products contaminated with Bt63 rice from the market, but why has it taken so long? The EU and FSA have been aware of the contamination in Europe for 18 months, and now they tell us the GM rice is “unsafe”. Why the delay? We have no idea how many people might have been exposed to contaminated products. We are concerned that immune system or allergic reactions could occur in people eating them. The EU seems to have been too reliant on the Chinese authorities to deal with the contamination, but they have failed to do so. This case provides another warming about how easy it is to contaminate food with GM and how difficult it is to clean up the mess afterwards. Businesses affected by this incident should be compensated as soon as possible, and the EU should seek recompense from the Chinese Government.


Calls to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341 065.

[1] See GM Freeze/Friends of the Earth briefing here.