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Japan widens testing of U.S. rice for illegal GMO
TOKYO, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Japan has expanded testing of U.S. rice for an unapproved genetically modified (GMO) strain due to a lack of proof from Washington that short- and medium-grain rice are free from contamination. An official at Japan's Agriculture Ministry said on Thursday that testing of U.S. rice for the unapproved strain, previously limited to long-grain rice and its products, now covers short- and medium-grain rice from the country.

The ministry has started testing U.S. short- and medium-grain rice stockpiled in warehouses in Japan, totalling about 1.1 million tonnes, for the unapproved GMO rice strain LLRice 601 owned by Bayer CropScience, a division of Bayer AG .

The genetically engineered rice has a protein known as Liberty Link, which allows the crop to withstand applications of an herbicide used to kill weeds.

The ministry has also started testing U.S. rice before shipment to Japan, with samples from each lot of contracted supplies examined by Japanese laboratories, the official said.

"We will only accept rice tested negative for GMO," he said.

Japan has a zero-tolerance policy on imports of unapproved GMO crops, and importers of crops tainted with unapproved GMO must destroy them or ship them back to exporting countries.

Japan has put rice imports under the state trading system as the grain is the nation's staple food, with the Agriculture Ministry acting as a rice importer.

Japan suspended imports of U.S. long-grain rice and its products immediately after the United States Department of Agriculture disclosed on Aug. 18 that LLRice 601 was detected in long-grain rice targeted for commercial use.

It continued imports of U.S. short- and medium-grain rice, however, assuming that contamination was limited to supplies of U.S. long-grain rice.

But a lack of information from the U.S. government about how extensive the contamination could be, despite enquiries from Tokyo, has made the Japanese government take a more cautious stance, the ministry official said.

Japan this month lifted a ban on imports of U.S. long-grain rice after it authorised testing protocol to prevent tainted supplies from entering the domestic market.

There have been no Japanese imports of U.S. long-grain rice since the fiscal year 1997/98.

Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 18 this year, Japan imported about 235,000 tonnes of short- and medium-grain rice from the United States. It also imported about 17,000 tonnes of processed rice from the U.S. during that period.

The ministry is obliged to buy about 770,000 tonnes of foreign rice on a brown rice basis under the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) minimum access programme.
MGR Archive 1.10.2006
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