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USA Rice supports action on Clearfield 131, but questions APHIS regulatory practices

USA Rice Federation supports the U.S. Department of Agriculture action this week through its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to prevent the planting and distribution of Clearfield 131 (CL131) rice seed that could contain trace levels of genetic material unapproved for commercialization.

APHIS issued an emergency action notification Sunday, March 4, “to inform distributors that this seed, scheduled for planting this spring, must be held until APHIS can verify and identify the presence of additional genetic material,” according to an APHIS news release issued March 5, 2007.

“The USDA action was clearly necessary, and the USA Rice Federation will help in any way possible to support the emergency action by APHIS,” USA Rice Federation Chairman Al Montna said today.

“By the same token, we are increasingly frustrated with the apparent lack of ability on the part of private companies and federal regulators to control research and maintain accountability of the resulting products,” Montna said. “The current approach to research, development and management in the biotechnology industry must be replaced with more conservative methodologies.”

For the moment it is imperative that growers not plant CL131 seed, said Jackie Loewer, chairman of the Louisiana Rice Producers' Group Board of Directors. “It is vital that farmers do not plant 131 even if they had been preparing to do so,” Loewer said. “Unfortunately, we are faced with the possibility that CL131 may contain genetically engineered traits that have not been approved, and planting it could result in greater losses than not planting.”

Meanwhile, “USA Rice is working diligently with USDA to minimize the impact this latest genetically engineered rice discovery will have on growers and the industry,” said Brian King, chairman of the USA Rice Merchants' Association. “If there's a silver lining here, it is that we now have assurance that CL131 will be removed from production in all rice-producing states. The Arkansas Plant Board on Friday banned the planting of CL131 seed in the state, because it had been found to contain genetically engineered traits.”

King, who heads the USA Rice Seed Committee that spearheaded a plan to help guide rice producers and state agriculture agencies handle the Liberty Link issue, noted that the Arkansas Plant Board action Friday demonstrated the effectiveness of the rice industry working together on this important issue.

In an APHIS statement released Feb. 20, the agency announced results of its initial testing of CL131 as part of its ongoing investigation into how trace amounts of Bayer CropScience Liberty Link traits entered the U.S. commercial rice supply. That discovery, announced by USDA last summer, rocked the U.S. rice industry and destabilized U.S. rice export markets, resulting in the closure of the European Union and other destinations for U.S. rice.

When USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made their August 18, 2006, announcement about the trace presence of Liberty Link traits in U.S. rice, both agencies also announced that the rice was safe for food and feed consumption.

“The current situation has resulted in substantial dollar losses for U.S. rice alone, and losses in markets that could take generations to recover,” Montna said. “This is unacceptable and it must be fixed.”

“The USA Rice Federation has a long established policy that there must be market acceptance and regulatory approval prior to the production of genetically engineered rice in the United States,” Montna said. “It is also essential that U.S. government agencies and commercial enterprises work to gain and maintain control of all current and future research. That is as essential for farmers and rice markets as it is for consumers,” Montna said.

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