LL601 genetic material found in 2003 foundation rice seed

Independent lab tests have confirmed a sample of 2003 foundation seed rice of the variety Cheniere grown by the LSU AgCenter contained a trace amount of genetic material from LL601 — a LibertyLink genetically modified rice.

The test results received Wednesday (Aug. 30), however, indicated Cheniere foundation seed grown in 2005 appeared to be free of Liberty Link 601.

Those tests, validated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, also indicated lots from 13 other varieties currently in the LSU AgCenter's foundation seed program also appeared to be free of LL601. The other varieties involved in the initial testing included Cocodrie, Cypress, Trenasse, Pirogue, Bengal, Jupiter, Clearfield 131 and Clearfield 161.

“We are conducting a thorough inquiry to determine how this happened,” said David Boethel, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for research. “We also are cooperating closely with officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in their investigation of the circumstances.”

The LSU AgCenter submitted samples to a testing lab soon after it was reported on Aug. 18 that trace amounts of LL601 were detected in samples of rice taken from Riceland Foods.

The long-grain rice from Riceland came from the 2005 crop held in storage facilities in Arkansas and Missouri, according to the USDA, but the agency said it didn't know where the rice was grown.

LibertyLink lines of rice were developed by Bayer CropScience — to allow the Liberty herbicide to be sprayed on weeds without killing the rice plants. The USDA and the Food and Drug Administration have approved two LibertyLink lines similar to LL601, although those are not in commercial production, and federal authorities have concluded that LibertyLink rice poses no threat to food safety, human health or the environment.

Field research on LibertyLink was conducted in collaboration with Bayer CropScience at the LSU AgCenter's Rice Research Station near Crowley, La., from 1999 through 2001.

At the time, LibertyLink technology was in the developmental stages. The research was focused on addressing control of a perennial problem for farmers known as red rice, which is the major weed problem facing rice producers in the southern United States.

“Weed control is one of our biggest problems, and we saw LibertyLink as one of several solutions,” said Ernest Girouard, a rice grower from Kaplan, La., who also is chairman of the Louisiana Rice Research Board. “Weeds can make a significant impact on yields and can make the difference between profitability and loss.

“Similar weed control technologies have had a significant positive impact on production of other crops.”

According to Steve Linscombe, a rice breeder who also serves as director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station, standards set by the USDA were followed strictly in the research with LL601, and the field plots of LibertyLink rice were isolated from other rice plants.

“In fact, we made sure the distance between the LibertyLink plots and other conventional rice plots was further apart than what the research protocols required,” Linscombe said. “When there was a minimum requirement, we exceeded it.”

Further safeguards in the foundation seed protocols may also be what accounted for finding LL601 material in just one of the rice lots tested this month.

“The test results we received this week demonstrated that LL601 was found in the 2003 sample of Cheniere seed but not in 2005 seed,” Linscombe said. “That is probably a result of the rigorous screening and selection employed in our foundation seed program.

“It may mean it has been eliminated from the variety, but further tests are needed, including those being conducted by APHIS.”

Commercial production of genetically modified crops has become common. The USDA estimates that more than 60 percent of corn, 83 percent of cotton and almost 89 percent of soybeans grown in the United States this year were genetically modified for various traits, including herbicide tolerance and insect resistance.

“The LSU AgCenter's foundation seed program has been extremely important to the U.S. rice industry. Over the years, the LSU AgCenter rice variety development program has released varieties that are among the most widely planted throughout the southern U.S. rice-growing area,” Boethel said.

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