Bayer CropScience has notified USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that the company has detected trace amounts of regulated genetically engineered rice in samples taken from commercial long grain rice. Both agencies have reviewed the available scientific data and concluded that there are no human health, food safety, or environmental concerns associated with the rice.

The regulated line, LLRICE 601, was field-tested between 1998 and 2001. Two deregulated lines, LLRICE 62 and LLRICE 06, have been deemed safe for use in food and safe in the environment, although these lines have not been commercialized.

“Bayer indicated it had no plans to market LLRICE 601 and therefore had not requested deregulation,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said. “Based on reports that LLRICE 601 is in the marketplace and a petition from Bayer, APHIS will conduct a deregulation process, including an opportunity for public comment.

“Because the line of GE rice in question was regulated, APHIS is conducting an investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding the release and whether any violations of USDA regulations occurred.

“The protein found in LLRICE 601 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.”

Since 1987, APHIS has deregulated more than 70 GE crop lines and in the last decade farmers have increasingly planted biotech varieties engineered mainly for herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, and enhanced quality traits. USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that in 2006, 61 percent of the corn, 83 percent of the cotton and 89 percent of the soybeans planted in the United States were biotech varieties.

The traces relate to a pre-commercial rice line LLRICE601, which produces a protein conferring herbicide resistance. The protein is well-known to regulators and has been confirmed safe for food and feed use in a number of crops by regulators in many countries including the EU, Japan, Mexico, the United States and Canada.

The value of the U.S. rice crop is estimated at $1.88 billion for 2006, half of which is expected to be exported. In 2005, 80 percent of rice exports were long grain varieties.

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com