U.S.D.A. concludes contaminated rice investigation

by Ron Sterk
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture completed its investigation into the 2006 discovery of trace amounts of bioengineered rice in two commercial varieties and was considering actions to strengthen enforcement and investigation capabilities and foster better quality management practices.

But the 8,500-staff-hour investigation did not discover how the bioengineered material was introduced into the commercial supply and did not result in any enforcement actions against Bayer CropScience, which developed and field tested the bioengineered rice.

"Given the lack of available information and evidence, U.S.D.A. was unable to make any definitive determinations that could have resulted in enforcement action," the agency said.

The investigation by the U.S.D.A.’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) began Aug. 1, 2006, after Bayer CropScience reported the detection of regulated LLRICE601 in the long-grain rice variety Cheniere. The investigation was expanded in February 2007 to include the discovery of regulated LLRICE604 in the long-grain variety Clearfield 131. LLRICE601 was subsequently deregulated in November 2006, the U.S.D.A. said.

The U.S.D.A. tested 396 samples from 57 rice varieties harvested between 2002 and 2006 and determined the presence of LLRICE601 was limited to Cheniere and LLRICE604 to Clearfield 131. But investigators were unable to determine the exact mechanism for introduction of the regulated bioengineered material into the two commercial varieties. They concluded, however, that contamination most likely was not through direct cross pollination.

APHIS said it was considering establishing retention requirements for records and greater isolation distances between seed breeding fields and bioengineered varieties. APHIS also was encouraging participation in the voluntary Biotechnology Quality Management System announced in September.

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