EU seeks joint testing with U.S. to prevent illegal GM rice imports

The European Union said Wednesday it would try to set up joint tests and controls with the United States to prevent genetically modified U.S. long grain rice from entering the 25-nation bloc.

EU spokesman Philip Tod told reporters that the European Commission would seek negotiations to get a quick deal with U.S. agriculture authorities on setting up a joint testing operation to ensure only legally approved rice makes it to Europe.

Tod said the Commission also approved a plan by EU Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou to strengthen mandatory sampling and testing by member states of all long rice imports to ensure they do not contain genetically altered strains.

He said the Commission would seek only a 15-day negotiating period with the U.S. "with the view to reaching an agreement on a common sampling and testing protocol to be used when carrying out the tests required to certify U.S. long grain rice."

The new measures come amid fears a banned genetically modified long grain rice strain, named Liberty Link Rice 601, which was accidentally imported from the United States, could have found its way into the food supply.

Controls were reinforced after Dutch officials found an unauthorized genetically modified variety in shipments that arrived in the port of Rotterdam in August. EU officials have confirmed that one shipment had been impounded in the Netherlands, another in Belgium.

Tests in Italy also found the illegal variety in imports there last month, and the EU has alerted officials in Britain, France and Germany that some of banned long-grain rice may have entered their nations.

Tod said if no agreement could be reached with the United States, EU governments would go ahead without Washington to boost testing and certification procedures.

Wary of public health and environmental concerns, the EU allows only genetically modified foodstuffs that have been evaluated and authorized to be placed on the EU market.

The LL 601 strain was developed by Aventis CropScience, which was taken over by Germany's Bayer AG in 2002 and renamed Bayer Crop Science. Bayer announced in July it had found the 601 strain in storage units in Arkansas and Missouri, reports AP.

While the EU head office insists on a recall of the illegal imports, it has said the presence of LL 601 poses no immediate health risk to humans or animals based on a review of incomplete data provided by the U.S. government and the maker of the rice variety.