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Unapproved Biotech Rice in U.S. Is Investigated

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Opponents of genetically engineered crops say they worry about possible dangers to health and the environment. Supporters of biotechnology say these crops are safe and tested before governments approve them.

But unapproved crops can accidentally reach market, although such incidents are believed to be rare. American officials are now investigating a case involving rice from Bayer CropScience of Germany.

The company tested the long-grain rice in fields in the United States between nineteen ninety-eight and two thousand one. Bayer never tried to market the biotech rice.

So officials say they do not know how small amounts of it got into rice from last year’s crop.

Bayer reported its findings to the government on July thirty-first and commented publicly on August eighteenth. The company said it was cooperating with the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

Last week the Agriculture Department approved a test to find the rice in shipments. But the two agencies say, based on the scientific information they have, there are no public health or environmental concerns.

Still, Japan quickly suspended imports of American long-grain rice. Japan mostly imports short- and medium-grain rice from the United States anyway.

Also, the European Union will now require imports of American rice to come with statements saying they are free of the unapproved rice. This requirement will stay for at least six months.

The rice was found in Arkansas and Missouri, mixed in with supplies from several states. Riceland Foods, a big marketer in Arkansas, said one of its export buyers discovered the unapproved rice in January. It says tests showed that the amounts were very small, about six kernels in ten thousand kernels of rice.

The rice contains a protein, called Liberty Link, genetically engineered to resist damage from Bayer's Liberty herbicide. The chemical is used to kill weeds around crop plants.

Two other kinds of rice with the same protein have been approved in the United States, although Bayer has not marketed them. But the protein is used in other products.

About half of the American rice crop is exported. And about eighty percent of exports are long-grain rice. The government estimates this year’s rice crop at almost two thousand million dollars.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Mario Ritter and online at I'm Doug Johnson.