U.S. rice farmers have moved a giant step closer to putting the genetically engineered LibertyLink-trait controversy behind them.

Final testing results for the 2008 Southern long-grain rice crop indicated that less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the samples registered any LibertyLink presence, the USA Rice Federation announced at the Rice Outlook Conference.

USA Rice Federation officials said that was a significant improvement over 2007 testing program results in which the long-grain rice samples were 99.5 percent free of the LibertyLink genetically engineered trait.

“This is a tremendous achievement for our industry,” said Brian King, USA Rice Federation Biotechnology Task Force chairman from Marked Tree, Ark. “There’s no clearer demonstration than these test results of what the U.S. rice industry can accomplish in the face of incredible challenges.

“We deeply appreciate the efforts of the rice farmers, millers and merchants who contributed to these outstanding results,” said King, who is also the USA Rice Merchants’ Association chairman.

King said at the USA Rice Outlook Conference in Little Rock, Ark., that the improved test results of the 2008 crop showed the validity of the Seed Plan that the rice industry put into place after the announced discovery of the LibertyLink traits in commercial rice on Aug. 18, 2006.

Under the Seed Plan, Arkansas state authorities mandated that all seed planted in the state be tested, and no LibertyLink traits were found prior to this year’s planting. Arkansas produces nearly 60 percent of the U.S. long-grain crop. State seed regulators have a significant impact on seed planted in the neighboring states of Mississippi and Missouri.

Louisiana, likewise, tested all seed prior to planting and no LibertyLink traits were reportedly detected. Louisiana is the second largest long-grain rice producing state.

USA Rice Federation Senior Vice President Bob Cummings shared preliminary 2008 testing results at a workshop Nov. 12-13 in Seville, Spain, sponsored by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. Workshop participants called for the EU to establish a low-level presence or tolerance, policy for genetically engineered traits that have been approved in another country, but are awaiting EU approval.

“USA Rice Federation has led this issue at home and abroad, and continues to work to regain lost market share attributed to the LibertyLink issue,” USA Rice Federation Chairman Jamie Warshaw said. “This remains a top priority for our industry.”

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