While the decision has yet to be set in stone, it appears Cheniere — a popular, long-grain rice variety — won’t be planted in Arkansas in 2007. This comes after several months of market turmoil following a USDA announcement that a tiny amount of a GM trait — Bayer’s LibertyLink — was found in the U.S. rice supply.

On Nov. 3, Richard Bell, who heads the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, spoke to Delta Farm Press about the Cheniere decision, state Plant Board plans and how Cuba might figure in the situation. Among his comments:

On taking Cheniere off the table…

“We’ve discovered that some of the foundation seed we thought was free of LL601, actually has the trait. It was used to produce the seed available for planting the 2007 crop.

“There was a Rice Federation-sponsored meeting in Dallas (the week of Oct. 30) that Darryl Little, director of the Arkansas Plant Board, and Mary Smith, head of the Plant Board seed division, attended. After that, we concluded that — in Arkansas, at least — we won’t have any Cheniere rice planted at all in 2007.

“There’s no Cheniere seed available that we’re assured to be free of LL601, so we’re asking producers not to plant it. Darryl will work up some proposals for the Plant Board to consider during its November meetings.

“We intend to test the seed available for planting prior to the 2007 planting season. Darryl is setting that up now.

“A certain percentage of operations use bin-run seed. That’s where a farmer will keep his rice and plant it the following year. We’re going to expect bin-run to be tested.”

But, as far as you know, the problem is still confined to Cheniere?

“Yes. We hear reports about other varieties, but as far as we know, that’s just talk.”

The people who contacted Riceland last January are being referred to as a ‘rice export customer.’ Would that be a U.S. rice exporter like ADM? Or are they an actual foreign buyer?

“It’s a European buyer. I was at a Riceland meeting on Nov. 2, and they explained the events from January through August.

“The first finding was in late January. They said a test discovered a biotech trait. At the time, everyone believed it was a piece of corn or a soybean that was mixed in with the rice.

“The problem was Riceland didn’t have the information to determine what this biotech trait was. They knew it had something to do with Liberty herbicide, but that’s as far they could go. After testing for some time, they asked Bayer what it was.

“Bayer asked for a sample so they could do the analysis, because it was a patented product and the company needed to protect the genetic code.

“Bayer came back a few weeks later and said it was LL601. But they didn’t know where it came from. Because of APHIS regulations, they had to report it that afternoon. That began the chain of events.”

I understand Cuba could play a positive role in this?

“I believe Cuba will take rice that may have LL601 in it once LL601 is deregulated by APHIS.

“I believe the only real market problem we have is the EU. If you look at rough rice sales, that go primarily to the Western Hemisphere, they’re running well ahead of a year ago. Milled rice export sales, which includes Europe, are down. In fact, Europe is sending some rice back.”

Since this was a European company that blew the whistle on LL rice contamination, why haven’t they trumpeted that fact? Is that not odd? From the reaction of the EU, the discovery would seem to be a feather in that company’s cap.

“Yes, I agree it’s odd… But everyone agrees — including their member state food authorities and EU authorities in Brussels — that there’s no health risk with this rice. The only problem is, the way EU regulations are written, it’s unlawful.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com