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GM rice not likely to pose health risk: Experts

The EU food safety authority says that at present it does not have sufficient evidence to provide a full risk assessment.

india Updated: Sep 15, 2006 20:21 IST

European food safety experts said on Friday that genetically modified rice illegally imported into Europe from the United States was not likely to pose a health threat to humans.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is based in Parma, Italy, said in a statement that at present it had "insufficient evidence to provide a full risk assessment," of the GM rice.

But the authority added that it was "not likely," that the gene-altered rice would pose a threat either to humans or animals if eaten.

The imported rice - known as LLRICE601 - was created by Bayer Crop Science, a German-based multinational that has developed a range of gene-altered crops.

The rice was an experimental variety, which the company stopped working on five years ago and never intended to sell.

However, after traces of LLRICE601 were found in batches of rice destined for human consumption in the United States at the end of July, the company decided to ask the US food safety authorities to approve the rice for sale.

"We don't want to sell it, but we want to calm the markets by this procedure to show the rice isn't dangerous," said Bayer Crop Science spokeswoman Annette Josten.

In August, the US Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA), the country's leading food safety authority, said it believed that LLRICE601, "posed no food or feed safety concerns."

Retailers across Europe have acted swiftly to try to reassure shoppers that they were not in danger from the rogue rice.

Germany's leading supermarket chain Edeka on Friday announced that it would be removing all US rice from its stores.

"We decided to take this measure because it cannot be clearly established at present how genetically modified rice could have been mixed with normal rice from the United States," Edeka said in a statement.

On Wednesday, France's main distributors assured consumers that all contaminated products, including packets of rice and cooked meals containing rice, had been recalled.

However, Jerome Bedier, president of the French Federation of Commerce and Distribution, said that it could not be ruled out that some contaminated rice had been consumed, although he stressed that the recall had been swift.

France confirmed on Thursday that traces of a banned genetically modified strain of rice had been found in imports from the United States after an alert last month by the European Commission.

French market and consumer regulator DGCCRF said that traces of the LLRICE601 strain of rice, which has never been approved for sale in the 25-nation European Union, had been detected in seven out of 19 samples tested.

"At this stage, the results reveal the absence of GMO in 12 samples and the presence of the LL601 strain of rice, at a level less than 0.1 percent, in seven samples," the regulator said in a statement.

Samples had been taken from France's main importers of rice from the United States following an alert by the European Commission in August, which in turn had been warned by US authorities about the risk of a possible contamination.

It was the Commission that subsequently asked the EFSA to carry out a risk assessment of LLRICE601.

Around 20,000 tonnes of rice is imported into France from the United States every year. National rice consumption is around 250,000 tonnes.

So far, traces of the GM rice have been found in France, Germany and Sweden.