GMO Rice Still in Local Supermarkets in Metro Manila

Manila, 20 January 2007—Sacks of “Uncle Sam Texas Long Grain Rice” confirmed last November to be contaminated with a GE (genetically-engineered) strain unapproved for human consumption continue to be sold in supermarket shelves in Metro Manila, Greenpeace revealed today. The environment organization also expressed shock and disgust over the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) serious failure to recall the GE-tainted rice from supermarkets to protect consumers, despite the government agency’s pronouncements last December that they are vigilantly inspecting US rice meant for export to the Philipines to block the entry of the unapproved GMO (genetically-modified organism).

“This is utter negligence. Once again, the Department of Agriculture has proven itself inutile in preventing and containing the threat of illegal GE products entering the country. The DA is fully aware of the US rice contamination scandal that affected global rice markets last year. They are also fully aware that “Uncle Sam Texas Long Grain Rice” has tested positive for GMO contamination. But aside from merely issuing a statement that they will be checking future rice imports for GE contamination, they have not taken any steps to prevent the continued sale of this illicit product in the market,” said Greenpeace campaigner Daniel Ocampo.

“Uncle Sam Texas Long Grain Rice,” distributed by Purefeeds Corp. of Sta. Cruz, Manila, was tested last year by an independent laboratory to be positive for Bayer LL601. Bayer’s LL601 is rice genetically-altered to survive the powerful herbicide glufosinate. It was field-tested under permits granted by the USDA (Department of Agriculture) from 1998 to 2001 but development was stopped by Bayer in 2001 for unclear reasons. On July 31, 2006, Bayer informed the USDA of LL601 contamination in the food chain, but neither Bayer nor the USDA was able to tell how much rice was contaminated, which rice products were involved, or where the contaminated rice was found. Bayer LL601 is illegal (not approved for commercial distribution or human consumption) in any place in the world except in the US where the company applied for marketing approval only after it illegally contaminated the food chain, presumably to limit its legal liability for the episode.

The widespread Bayer LL601 contamination scandal was the most significant demonstration of GE rejection in a global scale last year. The news elicited strong reactions from rice farmers and processors, as well as governments. Bayer faced a class-action lawsuit filed by hundreds of US farmers, and Japan, EU, and Russia responded with import restrictions. The incident also prompted rice producers and exporters in the US, EU, and Asia to commit to GMO-free production and trade. In the Philippines, the National Food Authority prohibited future GMO rice imports, and assigned a team in the US to test possible contamination in shipments to the Philippines.

“But, the DA should also not neglect to address the contamination already in our shores. For starters, the distributor of this contaminated rice in the country should be made to account. The concerned agencies should investigate and trace how this rice, unapproved for human consumption, ended up in our supermarkets,” added Ocampo.

Greenpeace held a press conference last November to warn the public about the presence of the GMO-contaminated rice product, as well as to demand the government for its immediate recall. The contaminated rice was at that time sold in branches of Robinson’s, Shopwise, and SM supermarkets. The DA, as well as the retailers, were informed of the contamination. But, to this day, the said GMO-contaminated rice continues to be sold openly in branches of SM supermarket (Megamall and SM City North EDSA), and Robinson’s Galleria.

“There is irrefutable evidence that governments, farmers and consumers throughout the world recognize that GMOs are unreliable, unviable or downright dangerous. The global GE rice scandal involving Bayer’s LLR601 impressed on farmers, exporters, retailers, consumers, and governments, the uncontrollable nature of GMO crops,” said Ocampo. “Clearly, this technology is unsafe as it can neither be controlled nor regulated. The government must therefore take concrete steps to protect consumers—-and not just render lip service and empty statements. To continue to neglect the matter is unacceptable.”

Greenpeace campaigns for GE-free crop and food production that is grounded in the principles of sustainability, protection of biodiversity and providing all people to have access to safe and nutritious food. Genetic engineering is an unnecessary and unwanted technology that contaminates the environment, threatens biodiversity and poses unacceptable risks to health.

For further information please contact:
Daniel Ocampo, GE campaigner, +63 917 897 6416
Lea Guerrero, Media Campaigner, +63 2 434 7034 loc 104, +63 916 374 4969