US Department of Agriculture deregulates GM rice LL601

On 24 November 2006, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the genetically modified rice LL601 for deregulation. The authority concluded that the rice "is as safe as its traditionally bred counterparts".

This autumn, the unapproved and regulated genetically modified rice LL601 caused emergency responses in Japan and the European Union when the USDA announced the finding of traces of LL601 in batches of conventional long-grain rice. Since LL601 had not been approved anywhere in the world at this time, import stops and tightened controls were implemented immediately. However, several national authorities in the EU reported that LL601 had already reached consumers.

According to the US Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), LL601 is similar to the GM rice lines LL06 and LL62, which APHIS deregulated in 1999. All three produce the Pat protein, which makes the plant tolerant to the “Liberty” herbicide. In a dozen countries around the world, this protein has been scientifically reviewed and approved for use in a range of crops.

Originally, Bayer CropScience did not intend to apply for deregulation, and the development of LL601 was stopped after field trials in 2001. Only the related transformation events LL06 and LL62 have been deregulated but have not subsequently been commercialised. It was only after LL601 had contaminated conventional long-grain rice that Bayer applied for deregulation in the USA.

However, the prospect of widespread cultivation worries many experts, who claim that the transgene is sure to move via pollen into red rice, a weedy relative of white rice. This red rice is the most common weed affecting rice farmers around the world.