March 22 2004

Friends of the Earth Europe
Coalition against BAYER-Dangers


European Governments are being urged to reject a Genetically Modified (GM) rice in order to protect the world's largest staple food from falling into the hands of multinational companies.

Member states have only until Sunday 28th March to object to an application by German-based Bayer Cropscience to import into the EU a GM rice that has been modified to resist the companies own herbicide, glufosinate ammonium. It is the first time that a company asks for the authorisation of GM rice in Europe. Both Friends of the Earth Europe and the German "Coalition against Bayer Dangers" (CBG) claim that an EU approval of the rice will send a dangerous signal to developing countries and could lead to the eventual corporate take-over of one of the worlds most important foods. Currently 2.5 billion people depend on rice as a staple food.

As well as the dangers to the worlds food supply Friends of the Earth and CBG are concerned that

Long term studies to examine the potential for more serious health effects were not carried out
Feeding studies on broilers conducted by Bayer were judged by the UK authorities to be of "limited capacity" to identify adverse effects, while in a pig feeding study a difference in response (increased weight gain) was observed in pigs who ate the GM rice
Bayer does not provide any information on the likelihood of imported rice being spilled and the effects this might be have on the 5 southern EU member states that currently grow rice (Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal and France).

Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth: "This genetically modified rice not only poses a health risk to European consumers but could also endanger the livelihoods of millions of people outside the EU. Europe has a strong moral obligation to take this into account when they assess this rice."

"Allowing the import of GM rice into Europe will give the green light to multinationals to promote this unsustainable form of farming in developing countries. Allowing the worlds most important staple food to fall into the hands of companies like Bayer is a dangerous and unprecedented move."

Philipp Mimkes of CBG: "Agricultural biotechnology has so far been a complete disaster for Bayer. This application for genetically modified rice will become another chapter in their book of failures. It's time that Bayer quit producing genetically engineered food."

Geert Ritsema, GMO campaign coordinator Friends of the Earth Europe, mobile: +31-6-290 05 908, office: +32-2-542 0182

Philipp Mimkes, Coalition against BAYER-dangers / Germany; +49-(0)211-333 911, (English and German)

Briefing about the food safety and environmental risks of Bayer's GMO rice

Friends of the Earth believes that there are several serious concerns about the safety of LLrice62 for use in human food.

The genetic analysis of the impact of the inserted genes on the rice indicated the possibility of an alteration in the plant metabolism as a result of the genetic modification; at the very least this was not ruled out by Bayer.
No examination of the GM rice was done to make sure that unanticipated changes to its metabolism had not occurred
Changes were observed in known compositional compounds of rice, including a substantial increase in the amount of existing allergenic compounds.
One of the feeding studies conducted by Bayer was judged by the UK authorities to be of "limited capacity" to identify adverse effects, while in the other a difference in response (increased weight gain) was observed for consumption of the GM rice.
Long term studies to examine potential for more serious health effects were not carried out.

Taken together, Friends of the Earth considers that the evidence suggests that unexpected changes could have occurred in the GM rice which could affect its nutritional value and safety for human consumption.
Rice is a staple food for 2.5 billion people. For many of those people, including citizens of the EU, it can make up a large proportion of the diet. The US Government has stated that when assessing GM foods for its own livestock, regulators should take particular care because "a single plant product may constitute a significant portion of the animal diet... Therefore, a change in nutrient or toxicant composition ... may be a very significant change in the animal diet" (emphasis added)1. If this argument is valid for US cattle, what about the humans around the world who could end up eating GM rice as the mainstay of their diet?

The Cartagena Protocol On Biosafety to the Convention On Biological Diversity notes that there are "limited capabilities of many countries, particularly developing countries, to cope with the nature and scale of known and potential risks associated with living modified organisms". The decisions by the European Union with respect to this GM rice will therefore be extremely influential in countries with limited resources to undertake their own regulatory review. The EU authorities must take the assessment of this rice extremely seriously - and ensure that it is completely safe for consumption as a large proportion of the diet - because this assessment will affect people not just in the EU, but around the world.

Environmental impacts
Bayer's application is for import of the GM rice but not cultivation. Rice is grown in 5 southern EU member states - Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal and France. Although gene flow to crop rice or weedy red rice is possible in such areas2,3,4, Bayer said in its application that it considered this risk to be only 'theoretical', because LLRICE62 is not intended to be grown in Europe (Page 43 of notification). However, nowhere in its application has Bayer provided data to show that grains will not be imported into regions where rice is grown and that it cannot escape. Bayer did not provide any information on the proportion of imported rice that may contain viable rice and whether or where spillages of imported rice have occurred in the past.

Environmental impacts in third countries
One of the key concerns raised by the UK authorities with respect to herbicide tolerant crops (and the subject of four years of field trials in the UK) was the impact of the changed herbicide regime on wildlife that makes use of agricultural areas. In the United States, around half of natural wetlands have been lost in the last century and rice fields provide a vital food resource for wetland birds as a result. The weed seeds and invertebrates of rice fields are known to be important food sources for wetland birds. If the use of herbicide tolerant rice reduces such biodiversity, in the same way as has been shown for GM beet crops and spring oilseed rape in the UK trials, then the production of Liberty link rice in the US could have serious impacts on wild birds in the United States and other countries where the crop is grown.

Resistance to the herbicide may develop rapidly
One of the key weeds that rice farmers need to control is weedy rice. Liberty Link rice has been promoted in the United States as a means of controlling weedy rice in particular. However, cultivated and weedy rice are so closely related that they can easily cross breed. recent research from China, designed to replicate the occurrence of wild rice in the field, found transgene escape to wild rice (Oryza rufipogon Griff.) occurring at the rate of 1.21 and 2.19 % in the field5. A recent study modelling commercial production of glufosinate tolerant rice in Latin America predicted that the development of herbicide resistant weedy rice populations would occur within 3 to 8 years6. This will mean that farmers will have to use more herbicides to control these herbicide resistant weed populations.

Impacts on centres of agricultural biodiversity
Dispersal of transgenes into wild rice, non GM rice and traditional varieties of rice would be of particular concern in those areas which are centres of agricultural biodiversity, such as India. The importance of protecting such world resources cannot be over stated; rice gets its resistance to two of Asia's four main rice diseases from a single sample of rice that came from central India7.

1 Guest, G. 1992. Response to FDA Draft Federal Register Notice on Food Biotechnology
2 OECD (1999) Series on Harmonization of Regulatory Oversight in Biotechnology No.14. Consensus document on the biology of Oryza sativa (rice). ENV/JM/MONO(99)26
3 Messegeur, J. et al (2001) Field assessments of gene flow from transgenic to cultivated rice (Oryza sativa L.) using a herbicide resistance gene as tracer marker. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 103: 1151-1159.
4 Zhang, N., Linscombe, S. & Oard, J. (2003) Out-crossing frequency and genetic analysis of hybrids between transgenic glufosinate herbicide-resistant rice and the weed, red rice. Euphytica 130: 35-45.
5 Chen LJ et al. (2004) Gene flow from cultivated rice (Oryza sativa) to its weedy and wild relatives
Annals of Botany 93 (1): 67-73
6 Madsen KH, Valverde BE, Jensen JE (2002) Risk assessment of herbicide-resistant crops: A Latin American perspective using rice (Oryza sativa) as a model Weed 16 (1): 215-223
7 World Resources Institute