Ebro Puleva, which controls 30 per cent of the European rice market, has stopped importing US rice due to the presence of an illegal GM rice strain, Bayer's LL601 which has not been approved for human consumption anywhere in the world. US field trials of this variety ended in 2001 but LL601 escaped the and has now contaminated an unknown number of conventional rice fields across the US.
The move by Ebro Puleva to stop importing US rice follows a summer of scandals with illegal GM contamination found in rice products all over Europe as well as in Japan. As a result of Bayer's recklessness, the global food industry is facing massive costs associated with this contamination, including testing costs, product recalls, brand damage, import bans and cancelled imports and contracts.
At least three multi-million dollar class action lawsuits have been filed by US rice farmers against Bayer CropScience already, as farmers struggle to protect their livelihoods from GM contamination. To compound Bayer's legal problems, they may soon be in the legal sights of Ebro Puleva too, as the multinational has indicated that they expect to bring legal actions against Bayer as well.
'Fox in charge of the chickens'
"By imposing a blanket ban on rice imports from the US, Ebro Puleva has acknowledged how real and costly the risk of GM contamination is," said Jeremy Tager, GM campaigner with Greenpeace International. "With GM now as uneconomic as it is unacceptable, governments in countries that grow or import GM must stop placing farmers, consumers, the environment and industry at such high risk."
The illegal GM rice scandal continues to rage just as the WTO has finally published a ruling on a case brought against the EU by the US, Canada and Argentina over Europe imposing restrictions on the importing of GM food. At its heart is a dispute about whether trade laws trump environmental laws - and surprise, surprise, for the WTO trade laws rule.
"The WTO is clearly unqualified to deal with complex scientific and environmental issues," said Daniel Mittler, Trade Policy Advisor at Greenpeace International. "And yet, when there is a conflict between trade and environmental considerations, it is the WTO that gets to decide which rules rule. It's like putting the fox in charge of the chickens,"
The latest GM contamination scandal shows that once GM organisms are released into the environment, the consequences for consumers, farmers and traders are enormous. The WTO has no place determining what people should eat and illegal GM rice has no place on the dinner tables of consumers anywhere in the world.