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Unauthorised GM rice found and withdrawn

Unauthorised GM rice found and withdrawn

30 July 2008

New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) has ensured the withdrawal of a rice product imported into New Zealand that has tested positive for trace quantities of the unauthorised genetically modified (GM) rice variety, Bt63. NZFSA is not aware of any health concerns for the product, however, Bt63 is not approved for sale in food in New Zealand as it has not had a Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) safety assessment.

The importer of the affected product has been contacted and has undertaken to voluntarily remove any remaining product from sale and ensure that further imports meet New Zealand standards.

NZFSA began testing rice products available to New Zealand consumers in March 2008 following an announcement earlier this year by the European Commission (EC) and the UK Food Standards Agency (UKFSA) that they were working to address the presence of the GM rice variety Bt63 in rice products imported from China.

Given the situation in Europe, the fact that New Zealand imports significant amounts of similar rice products annually, and as Bt63 is not approved under Standard 1.5.2 of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, NZFSA tested a range of such products available in New Zealand to determine whether there was a compliance issue here.

Fourteen samples were taken of the types of products which had triggered the EC response. Of these samples one product â€" imported rice vermicelli â€" contained trace quantities of Bt63. GM trace indicators were found in 10 other samples at or below the level of detection and these are being investigated to clarify their source.

The UKFSA has noted that it is not aware of any specific health implications for consumers who eat rice products containing Bt63 (http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2008/mar/rice). Based on knowledge of the GM component (called a transgene) in the rice, NZFSA also considers it unlikely that consumption of Bt63 rice at the trace levels identified in New Zealand poses a public health risk.

NZFSA is further investigating this particular instance and is developing an enhanced programme to monitor and verify compliance with New Zealand requirements. NZFSA is also working closely with authorities in China. China prohibits the export of GM rice and tests all exports for the presence of GM product in export shipments. NZFSA is therefore working with the relevant Chinese authorities to identify the source of this particular import into New Zealand and to track down how GM rice came to be detected in this shipment.

When the original concerns were raised and samples were collected, importers of rice products were reminded that only approved GM products can be sold in New Zealand and that any food containing GM ingredients must be appropriately labelled. NZFSA is contacting importers again to advise them that Bt63 has been identified and alert them to the types of products that may be affected. They are also reminded of their obligations under the Food Act 1981 to comply with the Food Standards Code.

NZFSA is looking at ways that compliance can best be demonstrated by importers and is also exploring a range of additional options for ensuring that New Zealand requirements are met in future.

Ends

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