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U.S. Rice Supply Contaminated

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"How many incidents will it take before the government takes their oversight of the biotech industry seriously?" asked Gregory Jaffe, director of the biotechnology project at the District-based Center for Science in the Public Interest. "It's reassuring that in this instance there is no safety risk, but I don't think that justifies the industry's blatant violation of government regulations."

Johanns said Bayer contacted the USDA about the problem on July 31, but the agency delayed announcing the finding until it had developed a test it could share with trading partners and others who might want to check for contamination. That test is now available.

Although Bayer stopped field tests of LLRICE 601 in 2001, the contamination appeared in the 2005 harvest, Johanns said -- a detail that Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, found "alarming."

"It's more evidence to me that all of these things that have been getting tested ultimately have a route to the food supply," Mellon said.

Although agency investigations are underway, both Johanns and Robert Brackett of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition said they do not anticipate recalls, crop destruction or other regulatory action.

"If we become aware of any new information to suggest that food or feed is unsafe, we will take action," Johanns said.

Instead, Johanns said, Bayer now plans to resurrect its effort to get the product approved -- or in government parlance, "deregulated" -- a move that would make the contamination issue moot in the domestic market.

Researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.


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