Genetically Altered Rice Found Safe, Agriculture Secretary Says

By Howard Cincotta
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington - Trace amounts of a genetically engineered rice strain have been found in U.S. supplies of commercial long-grain rice, but authorities have determined that there is no danger to human health, food safety or the environment, according to Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns and other senior officials.

Speaking at a press conference August 18, Johanns said that the company Bayer CropScience notified the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that it had found small amounts of the genetically engineered (GE) rice strain called LLRICE 601 in commercial long-grain rice. The 601 strain is one of several products designed to resist certain types of herbicides.

Two similar rice strains have already been evaluated and approved for use in food but have not been commercialized. Although LLRICE 601 has not been through a similar approval process, both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have determined that the GE rice is safe for humans and the environment.

"The protein found in LLRICE 601 is approved for use in other products," Johanns said. "It has been repeatedly and thoroughly scientifically reviewed and used safely in food and feed, cultivation, import and breeding in the United States, as well as nearly a dozen other countries around the world."

In a separate fact sheet, USDA pointed out that genetically engineered crops have long been developed for a variety of traits that benefit both farmer and consumers around the world.

"For example, GE crops can tolerate drought conditions and herbicides, resist insects and viruses, and provide enhanced quality and nutrition for consumers. GE crops are being developed by private companies, universities, and other researchers," according to the fact sheet.

Asked about countries that import U.S. rice, Johanns said, "The best way to deal with trade issues is to deal very, very directly with your trading partners, and we are doing that. We are engaging them. I have indicated to them that we will provide whatever information they need."

The United States produces more than 100 commercial varieties of rice valued at almost $1.9 billion, according to USDA statistics. About half of all U.S. production is exported, amounting to 12 percent of world rice trade.

The United States currently ranks fourth in world rice exports behind Thailand, Vietnam, and China, although India has exported more rice than the United States in some years.

Johanns' statement regarding genetically engineered rice, a transcript of remarks by Johanns and Dr. Robert Brackett, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and a fact sheet on genetically engineered rice are available on the USDA Web site.