USDA is seeking comments on a petition to deregulate the LLRICE601 line of rice that is genetically engineered to be tolerant to glufosinate, the herbicide used in the Liberty Link cropping system.

Last month, USDA announced that trace amounts of LLRICE601 had been detected in samples taken from commercial long grain rice. In the days that followed, U.S. rice prices fell, costing the U.S. rice industry an estimated $150 million.

“A review of the scientific data by USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded there were no human, health, food safety or environmental concerns with the GE rice,” USDA said in a Sept. 8 press release that announced it was seeking comments on the petition.

The release said the petition for deregulation, submitted by Bayer CropScience before the Aug. 18 announcement by USDA, is in accordance with APHIS' regulations concerning the introduction of GE organisms and products. APHIS has prepared a draft environmental assessment for LLRICE601. Although USDA has said the scientific evidence indicates no environmental, human health or food safety concerns associated with LLRICE601, some industry leaders have questioned the wisdom of de-regulating the rice so soon after the Aug. 18 announcement.

In 1999, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service deregulated two similar LibertyLink rice lines. But the two lines have not been commercially introduced due to reported opposition from the rice industry.

Under petition, APHIS would extend its deregulation from the original two lines to include the rice line known as LLRICE601. Notice of this action was published in the Sept. 8 Federal Register. USDA is seeking comment on the petition and invites comments on the environmental assessment. Consideration will be given to comments received on or before Oct. 10.

Persons or organizations which wish to provide input on the petition are asked to send an original and three copies of comments to Docket No. APHIS-2006-0140, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, Md. 20737-1238. Comments may be submitted via the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov/.