West Africa contaminated by US GM Rice
US rice imports sent to West Africa are contaminated with illegal GM rice
FoE Africa calls for immediate recall of all tainted rice food aid, and commercial imports
Accra (Ghana), Freetown (Sierra Leone). 24 November 2006.
A genetically modified (GM) rice not allowed for human consumption originated from the United states has been found in West Africa. The findings have been revealed today by Friends of the Earth in simultaneous press conferences in Ghana and Sierra Leone. Friends of the Earth Africa is urging the Governments of Sierra Leone and Ghana to immediately recall the contaminated products.
In August this year the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the presence of LLRICE601, an unapproved genetically modified (GM) rice variant developed by a subsidiary of chemical company Bayer in the food chain. Worried by this development, many countries, especially in Europe began to test rice shipments from the USA into their countries, and it has been found in over 15 European countries. Many supermarket chains like Tesco, and Sainsbury have withdrawn American rice from their shelves amid concerns it may be contaminated, and the EU is testing all rice imports coming from the US
In September/October 2006 FoE Ghana and Sierra Leone in collaboration with FoE African experts on GMOs collected samples of US long grain rice in their countries and sent them to the laboratory for testing.
The tests were conducted in an independent laboratory in the US with a validated testing method for LL601. The results show that there is LL601 contamination in Ghana and Sierra Leone.
“We are shocked that unapproved genetically modified long grain rice has been sent to our country through food aid channels,” commented Arthur Williams, a GM campaigner with FoE Sierra Leone. “We are a nation just recovering from years of civil war and now to attack us in this manner is now making our people once more vulnerable.”
Ghana is among the top 10 importers of rice from the USA and it is feared that the contamination may have spread across the West African sub-region and beyond. Ghana’s rice imports from the USA stood at 78.900 metric tonnes (MT) in 2001/2002, 117.600 MT in 2002/2003 and 166.400 MT in 2004/2005.
In 2002 East African countries such as Zambia rejected GM corn as food aid even though they were in a situation of food shortages. In Latin America contamination of the food chain through food aid was established when illegal corn strain, such as Star Link, was found there in 2002 and 2005. Now it is clear that serious efforts must be made by governments and international agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP) to endure that food aid does not become the popular channel for GM contamination around the world.
“We cannot accept a situation when food aid becomes a secret channel to ambush our peoples with illegal genetically modified food. We refuse to be used as guinea pigs in big business’s experimentations,” said Nnimmo Bassey of FoE Africa. “With the confirmation of this contamination, it is very likely that a large number of African countries are already contaminated. Africa is facing a lot of challenges and cannot afford to add this man-made problem. It must be halted at its roots.”
Reacting to the contamination, Cheryl Agyepong GM campaigner with FoE Ghana said: “We don’t want genetically modified rice in our fields and we call on our Government to take all necessary measures to prevent any possible contamination of our seeds.” She further added that African governments must preserve “the African environment in order to secure the future of humanity.”
LLRICE601 is engineered to tolerate an herbicide called glufosinate which is sold under the brand name Liberty Link. This tolerance was introduced through a Streptomyces hygroscopicus gene that codes for phospinothricin acetyl transferase (PAT), a glufosinate-inactivating enzyme. The GM rice, produced by German-based biotechnology company Bayer, was field tested between 1998 and 2001 but the contamination of commercial long grain rice has only just come to light. The US exported more than 3 million tonnes of rice in 2005.
FoE Africa calls on the government to immediately halt untested long grain rice food aid and commercial imports from the USA. The public does not want this illegal rice and even rice growers in the USA were shocked to learn that they were cultivating an unapproved rice strain. The USDA must take immediate steps to examine protocols for the containment of field trails and also to ensure that every shipment to Africa is adequately screened to ensure they are free of contamination.
For more information contact:
FoE Ghana: Cheryl Agyepong, +233 215 12311
FoE Sierra Leone: Arthur Williams, + 232 3027 0962,
FoE Africa: Nnimmo Bassey, +234 803 727 4395