As rice producers wait on answers for exactly how trace amounts of GM rice got into the nation’s supply, the EU has emerged as the United State’s most reluctant rice-trading partner. Since the problem was revealed in mid-August, American rice shipments have been turned away from European ports and grocery stores there have removed products containing U.S. rice.

On Oct. 5, Richard Bell, who heads the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, testified before the Arkansas legislature on the continuing problems and hoped-for solutions. Five days later, Bell spoke with Delta Farm Press on reconciling testing procedures with the EU, the rejected barge loads of U.S. rice and the most logical manner LL601 got into Cheniere.

Among his comments:

On recent developments…

“There were discussions scheduled between Bayer (and U.S. rice industry leaders) early this week.

“That needed to happen. We need to have those involved in the export trade sit down and talk with Bayer about getting some type of testing everyone can agree on – particularly between Europe and the United States.”

You’ve said (Europe) is testing for LL601 at .05 and (the U.S.) is testing for .1. That means their testing is more stringent…

“That’s what it means. If we test at 0.1 and the (GM level) turns out to be .075 when it reaches Europe, then they reject the load.”

In other words, if we test it, the rice might show up at 6 (offending) grains per 10,000. The EU would test and reject a load at 3 grains per 10,000.

“That’s right. And I don’t believe the Europeans are always using official labs when testing. Apparently, there are all kinds of people doing tests and then saying, ‘Well, we can’t take that (load of rice).’

“There have been questions raised by the Europeans about the accuracy of U.S. tests. But you could probably get two lab technicians together and they’ll argue about something.

“There was a USDA team that went to Europe last week…I believe they were trying to reconcile the differences on testing. Otherwise, trade will come to a stop in terms of exports of U.S. long-grain rice to Europe.”

What can you tell us about these shipments heading over to Europe and being sent back or stagnating in port?

“There’s still some rice sitting in barges in western Europe. Some has already been returned to the United States.

“Most of that trade, if not all, has been in LASH (Lighter Aboard SHip) barges. That’s where the rice barge is taken to the mouth of the Mississippi and is loaded on an ocean-going vessel. When it arrives in, say, Rotterdam, the barge is off-loaded and the barge takes the rice farther.

“Each ocean-going vessel has a total of around 80 barges. Generally, 30 are rice barges.

“The barge companies don’t like having barges tied up. Unless we come to some type of reconciliation on testing, trade could come to a stop.”

That begs the question: Who will eat the cost for this? Will Bayer pay for it?

“I don’t know…Daryl Little (head of the Arkansas Plant Board) and I met (on Oct. 3) with Bayer officials in Little Rock. I mentioned to them that, during the StarLink case, the cost of the corn being diverted away from Japan was at least partially assumed by Aventis. (The Bayer) people didn’t respond to that.

“Right now, the cost is being borne by the exporters.”

What about the co-mingling (of LibertyLink rice and Cheniere)? I know you and Mr. Little see that as the most logical explanation…Is that only your point of view or have you heard that explanation being bandied about by APHIS?

“It hasn’t been bandied about by APHIS. But other people agree with it.

“It appears co-mingling of 601 rice occurred when foundation seed for 2003 was being prepared. It seems to be a mechanical error not a breeding error. The problem isn’t inside the kernel…

“And if this is a mechanical problem, it’ll be easier to solve than if the problem is imbedded in Cheniere itself.”

If it was co-mingling, does there need to be more stringent rules on handling (GM) rice?

“I don’t know. I do know John Alter, from the Arkansas Rice Producers Association, testified before the legislature about the weakness of APHIS procedures. He cited a USDA OIG (Office of Inspector General) report.

“I believe when the Homeland Security Department was formed, APHIS lost a lot of good people. They were transferred to the new department. So they may be understaffed for what they’re trying to do.”

Have any testing procedures to make sure this problem isn’t in next year’s crop been settled on? Has it been decided if that will be a national or a state effort?

“It hasn’t been decided but there will be at least a state effort…(Any Arkansas effort) will be done in connection with the seed trade. Discussions about that will begin shortly.”

Anything else?

“Some of this is conjecture. To get a final answer, we’ll have to wait for the APHIS investigation report. I’m told that may not be completed until late December. As everyone knows, grower meetings begin in November and (run through) part of February.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com