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U.S. rice leaps EU testing hurdle, sets up easier exports

The U.S. rice industry has crossed a major hurdle towards resuming regular rice shipments to the European Union.

On Dec. 20, the Standing Committee of the Food Chain and Animal Health — at the recommendation by staff of EU Health and Consumer Protection Directorate General (DG-SANCO) — voted to remove the requirement for mandatory testing of U.S. long-grain rice for the presence of genetically engineered traits at the first point of entry into the European Union.

U.S. rice shipments had been hindered by EU actions and mandated testing following the Aug. 18, 2006, announcement that trace amounts of genetically modified rice were found in the U.S. commercial supply.

“Exports of U.S. long-grain rice to the EU were 282,000 metric tons in the 2005-06 marketing year prior to the discovery of the (LibertyLink) traits,” said Bob Cummings, USA Rice senior vice president. “Exports were 50,000 metric tons in 2006-07.”

Now, following several days of meetings, “DG SANCO is recommending the lifting of the current mandatory inspection requirement on imports of U.S. long-grain rice because the U.S. rice industry has in place a robust action plan to remove the LibertyLink traits from the commercial long-grain supply, and because of the successful implementation of this plan in connection with the 2007 crop,” said Cummings.

“Additionally, the EU Commission (in the form of DG SANCO) and the U.S. government (USDA/GIPSA) have agreed on a sampling and testing protocol for U.S. long-grain rice destined for the EU that meets EU standards and that provides direct involvement by USDA in the sampling of rice to be exported to the EU.

Both the United States and the EU have agreed on the test to be performed on this rice and on the list of U.S. laboratories eligible to perform the test.”

The EU shift in mandatory testing “is the single most important step necessary for the restoration of the EU market for U.S. long-grain rice,” said Al Montna, USA Rice chairman. “Destination testing creates tremendous risk and uncertainty for U.S. shippers and EU customers and, as a result, has had the effect of slowing trade to a trickle.”

Prior to the latest vote, the EU had insisted U.S. rice be tested for GM traits not only in the United States but also when it arrived in Europe.

“Sometimes, tests here would be negative and (show positives) there,” said Marvin Baden, Producers Mill senior vice president and chairman of the USA Rice EU Trade Policy Subcommittee. “That led to rice having to be shipped back to the United States.”

Baden was a member of a U.S. rice industry group that visited EU officials regularly over the last year. The meetings fostered trust between the sides.

“This is our third or fourth trip there this year. We proposed the best way to do this is origin testing under APHIS/GIPSA.”

While the origin testing is now enough for the EU, each country within the union is able to insist on further testing. No country has announced such plans.

Following the announcement, Betsy Ward lauded those involved in the negotiations. “No other industry faced with the unintentional release of a GE trait has made the commitment and taken such comprehensive actions to meet the regulatory and consumer demands of its customers,” said the USA Rice president and CEO.

The EU decision “means that the U.S. rice industry is now clearly on a path for normalizing trade with the EU and other world markets affected by the unintended Liberty Link presence,” Montna said. “This is the result of more than a year of diligent work within the U.S. rice industry to eliminate the LibertyLink traits from the commercial rice supply, and the industry will need to continue its vigilance.”

Information in this story was supplied by the USA Rice Federation.

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