Planting of CL131 rice halted

by Ron Sterk
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WASHINGTON — The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this week halted the planting and distribution of Clearfield CL131 long-grain rice after discovery of an unapproved bioengineered trait.

"APHIS began issuing emergency action notifications (March 4) to inform distributors that this seed, scheduled for planting this spring, must be held until APHIS can verify and identify the presence of additional genetic material," the agency said.

Some fields already had been planted and might have to be plowed under in Louisiana, industry sources said. But fields still were being prepared for planting in top-producing Arkansas. The news supported rough rice futures prices at the Chicago Board of Trade because it could prompt farmers to plant other crops on acres intended for rice.

Clearfield CL131 was not developed as a bioengineered variety, APHIS said. Clearfield is a registered trademark of Germany’s BASF Corp., which licensed Horizon Ag of Memphis, Tenn., to market the seed in the U.S.

Horizon Ag notified the U.S.D.A. the previous week after tests revealed the possible presence of trace levels of genetic material not yet commercially approved. The U.S.D.A. still was conducting tests to confirm the private test results. APHIS said it also was investigating how the material was released and whether any U.S.D.A. regulations were violated. BASF and Horizon Ag were fully cooperating with the government, APHIS said.

"This is not the first detection of genetically engineered material in Clearfield CL131 rice seed," APHIS said. "Last week, APHIS announced that trace levels of a previously deregulated genetically engineered trait had been identified in Clearfield CL131."

The variety accounts for about 17% of the long-grain rice grown in the U.S., the U.S.D.A. said. U.S. producers planted 2,186,000 acres of long-grain rice in 2006, 77% of total rice plantings. Total long-grain production was 146,214,000 cwts, 75% of the U.S. rice crop. More than half of U.S. long-grain rice is exported.

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