Leading environmental groups are urging
the EU to reject a new strain of genetically modified rice.
Member states have until Sunday (Mar. 28) to object to an
application by the German-based Bayer Cropscience to import the
strain LL Rice 62 into the European Union (EU).
Friends of the Earth (FoE) and Greenpeace have expressed
concern about health and environmental effects the GM rice
The environment groups say the EU's 15 member states must
reject the GM rice to prevent the world's most important
staple food falling into the hands of multinational companies.
Rice is staple diet for an estimated 2.5 billion people.
EU approval would send a dangerous signal to developing
countries and could lead to the eventual corporate takeover of
one of the world's most important foods, the two organisations
said in a joint statement Tuesday.
The rice has been modified to resist the herbicide
glufosinate ammonium. A foreign gene taken from a bacterium is
inserted via genetic engineering into rice to produce LL Rice
62. This makes the rice tolerant to glyphosinate ammonium, a
toxic weed killer also produced by Bayer.
A farmer can then spray glyphosinate ammonium the whole
growing season. This would kill other plants but not the GM
One of the NGOs' main concerns about such herbicide tolerant
crops is the impact that a changed herbicide regime would have
on wildlife in agricultural areas.
FoE says that the dispersal of transgenes into wild rice,
non-GM rice would be of particular concern in those areas which
are centres of agricultural biodiversity, such as India.
If such a crop gets commercialised, more of the harmful
glyphosinate ammonium will be sold and end up in the
environment, Geert Ritsema, GM campaign coordinator for FoE
GM rice is a serious threat to rice biodiversity and thus
to the livelihood of millions of farmers in Asia, said Eric
Gall from Greenpeace. Not only does it risk contaminating
European rice-producing regions, but key questions about its
safety have not been answered. Member states bear a huge
responsibility and should swiftly reject this authorisation to
import GM rice.
This is the first time a company has asked for GM rice
authorisation in Europe. Within the EU Italy, Spain, Greece,
Portugal and France grow rice.
FoE and Greenpeace say no long-term studies have been
carried out on the GM rice to examine its effect on health.
The EU authorities must take the assessment of this rice
extremely seriously - - and ensure that it is completely safe
for consumption as a large proportion of the diet -- because
this assessment will affect people not just in the EU, but
around the world, the NGOs said in their statement.
Such a move would give the green light to multinationals to
promote the unsustainable farming of this rice in developing
countries, Ritsema said.
Food safety expert Devinder Sharma from India says that
control over rice is steadily passing into the hands of
transnational corporations based in Europe and the United
States, which use unfair patenting practices and genetic
manipulation of food.
He warned of daylight robbery of genetic wealth by
European and U.S. corporations in developing countries.
GM food cannot eradicate hunger, Sharma told media
representatives here. It is not a question of production, but
of distribution and access.
Bayer Cropscience declined to comment on the NGOs'
GM food is showing signs of advance into Europe. Last week
European commissioner for health and consumer protection David
Byrne said that the EU will soon approve a genetically modified
The United States has challenged an EU ban on genetically
modified foods. European farm ministers are due to meet next
month to consider lifting the ban and allowing a new biotech
sweetcorn variety to be sold.
New EU labelling and traceability requirements have cleared
the way for GM products, Byrne said.