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August 2006 Updates

US Rice Farmers Sue Bayer CropScience over GM Rice

August 26 2006

LOS ANGELES - Rice farmers in Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and California have sued Bayer CropScience, alleging its genetically modified rice has contaminated the crop, attorneys for the farmers said on Monday.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock, law firm Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll said in a statement.

The farmers alleged that the unit of Germany's Bayer AG failed to prevent its genetically modified rice, which has not been approved for human consumption, from entering the food chain.

As a result, they said, Japan and the European Union have placed strict limits on U.S. rice imports and U.S. rice prices have dropped dramatically.

A Bayer representative could not be immediately reached for comment.

U.S. agriculture and food safety authorities learned on July 31 that Bayer's unapproved rice had been found in commercial bins in Arkansas and Missouri. While the United States is a small rice grower, it is one of the world's largest exporters, sending half of its crop to foreign buyers.

The genetically engineered long grain rice has a protein known as Liberty Link, which allows the crop to withstand applications of an herbicide used to kill weeds.

The European Commission said on Wednesday the EU would require U.S. long grain rice imports to be certified as free from the unauthorized strain. The commission said validated tests must be done by an accredited laboratory and be accompanied by a certificate.

Japan, the largest importer of U.S. rice, suspended imports of U.S. long-grain rice a week ago.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration have said there are no public health or environmental risks associated with the genetically engineered rice.

The United States is expected to produce a rice crop valued at $1.88 billion in 2006. U.S. rice growers are responsible for about 12 percent of world rice trade. Three-fourths of the crop is long grain, grown almost entirely in the lower Mississippi Valley. California, the No. 2 rice state, grows short grain rice. (Additional reporting by Christopher Doering in Washington)



Bayer Faces More Lawsuits Over GMO Rice

August 29, 2006

CHICAGO - Bayer CropScience has been hit with two more lawsuits claiming its genetically modified rice contaminated the U.S. long grain rice supply, according to court documents and attorneys for the plaintiffs.

Bayer CropScience, a unit of Bayer AG (BAYG.DE: Quote, Profile, Research), now faces a total of three lawsuits seeking damages to compensate farmers for falling rice prices.

The U.S. Agriculture Department announced August 18 that trace amounts of an unapproved GMO variety engineered by Bayer CropScience were found in rice storage bins in Arkansas and Missouri.

USDA said there was no health or environmental risk. But Japan has suspended imports of U.S. long grain rice and the 25-nation European Union will only allow into its stores long grain rice that is certified free of the unapproved strain.

The latest lawsuit was filed on Tuesday morning in Lonoke County Courthouse in Lonoke, Arkansas, on behalf of 20 rice farmers, said Janet Keller, spokeswoman for the law firm of Hare, Wynn, Newell and Newton LLP, which is based in Birmingham, Alabama.

Arkansas is the top rice producing state in the United States and its farmers have just begun harvesting the crop.

The latest suit seeks $275,000 per plaintiff plus punitive damages, Keller said.

"We fully anticipate more farmers to become involved," she said.

Since the announcement of the contamination, rice futures at the Chicago Board of Trade have fallen about 85 cents per hundredweight, or about 9 percent, on worries that exports would be affected.

The two other lawsuits, each seeking class-action status, were filed on Monday against Bayer CropScience.

One, brought by Lonnie and Linda Parson, rice farmers in Arkansas, was filed by Emerson Poynter LLP in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock. Damages were not specified.

Another was brought by Geeridge Farm Inc. and George Watson and was filed by Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

U.S. officials are still investigating how the biotech rice ended up in the commercial supply.

The United States is expected to produce a rice crop this year valued at around $1.9 billion.


EU Set to Stop GMO-Tainted US Rice

by Jeremy Smith
August 22, 2006

Europe was poised on Tuesday to prevent unauthorized biotech rice detected in the United States from entering its food chain, the EU executive said.

Measures were not specified but the rice could be blocked with import restrictions similar to those used in a case last year.

"We are preparing measures that we hope will be adopted tomorrow in order to ensure that unauthorized GM products do not reach European consumers," Commission spokeswoman Antonia Mochan told a daily news briefing. She did not elaborate.

At present, no genetically modified (GMO) rice is authorized for import or sale within the 25-country European Union, although several biotech maize and rapeseed varieties have secured EU approval.

GMO products have run into strong resistance in the European Union, where many consumers view them as "Frankenstein" foods.

Late on August 18, the Commission was informed by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns that trace amounts of unauthorized biotech rice had been detected in long-grain samples that were targeted for commercial use.

Nearly three weeks earlier, on July 31, U.S. agriculture and food safety authorities were told that testing by Bayer CropScience, a unit of Bayer AG, showed the GMO rice -- called LLRICE 601 -- in rice bins in Arkansas and Missouri.

It was the first time that unmarketed genetically engineered rice had been found in rice used in the U.S. commercial market.

Commission experts have contacted Bayer and U.S. authorities for more information, saying earlier this week they were treating the matter with the "utmost urgency."

"We have a number of issues that we put to them on which we wish clarification," spokeswoman Mochan said.

Japan, for which the United States is the largest rice exporter, has already suspended imports of U.S. long-grain rice.

Europe's consumers are known for their skepticism about GMO crops. But the biotech industry insists its products are perfectly safe and no different to conventional foods.

Another Transatlantic Clash

The biotech rice case recalls a similar transatlantic clash over GMO foods last year, when EU experts blocked imports of U.S. maize animal feed and grains unless there was proof they were untainted by an unauthorized GMO. That proof comes via a technical detection test, provided by the manufacturing company.

It is still unclear whether the unauthorized rice strain -- modified to withstand applications of a weed-killing pesticide -- might have found its way into shipments destined for European markets, and if so, how much of it and in what concentrations.

"We're looking into this with the American authorities to see exactly what is at stake. On the basis of this information, we'll adopt the right measures to ensure that the GMO rice does not enter the European market," Mochan said.

"We're trying to see where the problem lies ... and the potential impact on the European market," she added.

U.S. authorities say the GMO strain poses no risk to public health or the environment. Green groups, however, are outraged by the latest GMO scare to flare up between the two huge trading partners, calling on the EU to suspend its U.S. rice imports.


Japan Suspends US Long-Grain Rice Imports

Associated Press
August 20, 2006

TOKYO - Japan has suspended imports of U.S. long-grain rice following a positive test for trace amounts of a genetically modified strain not approved for human consumption, a news report said Sunday.

Japan's Health Ministry imposed the suspension on Saturday after being informed by U.S. federal officials that trace amounts of the unapproved strain had been discovered in commercially available long-grain rice, the Asahi newspaper said.

The genetically engineered rice was detected by Bayer CropScience AG. The German company then notified U.S. officials. The strain is not approved for sale in the U.S., but two other strains of rice with the same genetically engineered protein are. The ministry will instruct companies not to process or sell any U.S. long-grain rice they may already have imported, though it has so far not received any report this year that any company has imported or plans to import such rice, the Asahi said.

The ministry has requested the U.S. government to enact strict controls, the Asahi said, adding that the suspension does not affect short- and medium-grain rice imports.

The Health Ministry does not include any strain of rice on its list of genetically modified foods approved for sale in Japan.

Health Ministry officials were unavailable for comment Sunday.


Rice Contaminated by GM Has Been on Sale for Months

By Geoffrey Lean
Independent / UK
August 27, 2006

US has been knowingly shipping banned food here all year. But only now do they tell us

Britons have unwittingly been eating banned GM rice imported from the United States for months, if not years, food safety experts fear.

Imports of the rice were stopped by the European Commission (EC) on Thursday. But investigations in the US show that it has long been "wide-spread" in grain destined to be shipped overseas.

It was first discovered in January that the banned crop, which has never received safety clearance, was contaminating export stocks of long-grain rice. But it was not until nine days ago that the US government informed importing countries.

European governments are furious that the Bush administration delayed warning them. And the row threatens ministers' plans for growing GM crops in Britain.

The unauthorised rice, codenamed LLRICE601, was developed by Bayer CropScience to tolerate weedkiller. It was tested on US farms between 1998 and 2001, but the company decided not to market it and never submitted it for official approval.

In January, it was found to have contaminated rice from Arkansas-based Riceland, the world's largest miller and marketer, which is responsible for one-third of the entire US crop.

In May, Riceland tested samples from "several storage locations", finding the contamination in a "significant" number. It concluded, in an official statement, that it was "geographically dispersed and random" throughout its rice-growing area.

Bayer officially notified the US government on 31 July. But it was a further 18 days before the Bush administration told importers, informing EU countries such as Britain just an hour before holding a press conference to make details of the contamination public.

On Thursday, the EC prohibited any shipments from the US unless they could be proved to be free of the banned rice. But it remains concerned that Britons and other Europeans may have been eating it for months, possibly years.

Britain has imported more than 42,000 tons of long-grain rice from the US since January, when the problem was first discovered. No one knows how much of this was contaminated, but the Food Standards Agency is planning to carry out tests on rice that has yet to be sold to the public.

The Arkansas government suspects that the crisis began when pollen from the rice tested on US farms spread to contaminate conventional crops. This would mean that it has been present - and presumably been exported - at least since 2001, when the trials stopped.

Richard Bell, the state's agriculture secretary, admits that the contamination is "widespread" and predicts it will show up again in this year's crop when it is harvested.

The Bush administration says that "there are no human health, food safety or environmental concerns associated with this rice". But the EC's Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, says it must not be allowed to enter the food chain.

Bayer, which had no part in exporting the contaminated rice, says it is "co-operating closely" with the US authorities. But it says that while the matter is being investigated, it cannot say when it first knew of the problem .


Bio to Nano: Technology, Risk and Democracy

By John Hepburn
July 27, 2006

The scientific and business community are still struggling to understand the global public rejection of genetically engineered (GE) foods, and with the growing discourse around the risks and disruptive impacts of nanotechnology, many are becoming increasingly worried that history is about to repeat itself. There is a blossoming of reports and conferences that explore 'From bio to nano' and how governments can avoid 'fighting the last war'. PR consultancies and think-tanks are doing a roaring trade in communications advice and 'upstream engagement' tools to minimize the risk of backlash. However, it is becoming clear that virtually all of the issues that have made GE food so controversial are also present with nanotechnology. The only real question that remains for executives and politicians worried about a nano backlash is? when?

In some ways, the outrage over GE was the accumulated and unexpressed outrage over the role of industrial agriculture and chemical companies in our lives for the past fifty years. It was a gut-level reaction that the industrial experiment had gone far enough. When pesticides were first introduced, it was done with little or no knowledge by the general public of the negative effects, and it was done when the modern environmental and consumer movements had yet to develop. However, 40 years after Rachael Carson wrote 'Silent Spring', after 4 decades of creeping revelations about the health and environmental impacts of industrial agriculture, after 4 decades of increasing public skepticism about the impacts of science, the public was not willing to idly accept the next major technological experiment with the environment and with their health.

Social movements don't spring out of nowhere. They emerge and grow within a context - a mixture of culture, counter-culture, hopes, fears and ideas. The dramatic rejection of GE foods in the mid-late 1990's was a trigger event in a movement that started long before. The groundwork was laid by the many groups who had been campaigning against GE since the mid 1980's, so by the time Monsanto started planting commercial GE crops in the US in 1996, there was a clear political, social, intellectual and cultural context for the movement to flourish. The public was recently attuned to the problems of industrial food systems following BSE and other food/health scares, and was already distrustful of chemical companies. The obvious and immediate question over GE foods was, and still is, who benefits and who bears the risks? The answer was obvious. So was the response.

The official debate about GE has largely been limited to a narrow discussion of risk - involving an assessment of both the probability of some negative event happening, and the magnitude of the consequences. However, theorists such as Ulrich Beck have argued that the potential consequences of new technologies such as nuclear fusion and biotechnology render this traditional risk assessment approach inadequate because of the new and potentially massive scale of the consequences and the fact that, in the long run, the least likely event will occur. But even this critique misses what has been one of the primary sticking points for public acceptance of GE foods - the simple fact that the people who create the risks are not necessarily the ones who accept the consequences. Why should a person or a community accept any level of risk whatsoever if there is no benefit for them? On the otherhand, it is easy to see why companies are less concerned about creating and imposing risks if they are not accountable for consequences.

The mainstream debate on risk has flourished because it essentially leaves the paradigm of technological development intact. The basic assumption is that new technologies will be introduced unless a relatively narrow scientific assessment indicates that there will be negative impacts. This is in stark contrast to the model proposed by many critics of GE who argue that the burden of proof should be reversed - and that proponents of risky new technologies should be required to prove safety prior to introduction of their products. There is a rather compelling argument that both the probability of negative effects of genetic engineering, and the scale of any negative consequences are fundamentally unpredictable. Thereby justifying a precautionary and enduring ban on the release of GE organisms into the environment.

Despite the early stage of technology adoption, the debate about nano risks is already quite well developed. This is probably due to a combination of a number of factors, including a more active regulatory and public/media context around risk following 10 years of relentless public conflict over GE. The other factors are the similarities between nanoparticle toxicity and the known toxicity of other ultra-fine particles (vehicular emissions etc) and the doyen of public health scandals - asbestos. However, issues of direct environmental and health risks are only one small part of a bigger picture. The introduction of transformative new technologies also raises more fundamental questions about values and ideas about our future. The problem is that it has somehow become taboo to contest ideas. It's as if industrial capitalism is somehow not an idea and is therefore exempt from scrutiny, while anything else can be dismissed as 'ideology' - a slur that implies a lack of critical perspective. At this point, it is worth asking what kind of society is it where anyone who raises criticisms of new technology is immediately derided as an ideologue and a luddite? It's almost as though science has achieved a quasi-religious status, where bio and nanotech might well be regarded as the new creationism.

So what are the values that underpin the coming nanotechnology revolution? To answer this question, we need to ask a few closely related questions. Who is funding the technology? In whose interests is it being developed? To what end? How are decisions being made about the technology and by whom? The short answer is that nanotechnology is primarily being developed by the world's largest corporations and by the US military in order to introduce a range of new products and processes either for the purposes of increasing profits or extending military supremacy. While there are some genuinely interesting and possibly beneficial applications of nanoscience, this is not where the real action is and certainly isn't what is driving research agendas.

At a fundamental level, the debate over nanotechnology will be about democracy. It will be about our future and who gets to define it. About who benefits and who bears the negative impacts. That's what the GE campaign is about, and that's what is at stake with nano. In the absence of a cautious and responsible approach by governments and industry to such a powerful set of technologies, the community is faced with little choice but to put the brakes on - using whatever means are possible.

For more information about nanotechnology, risk and democracy, visit

Writings by John Hepburn can be found at:

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