Tests find no GM traits in Arkansas rice seed

Tests by an independent laboratory found no GM rice in samples of breeder seed or foundation seed grown by the University of Arkansas over the past three years, according to Milo Shult, UA vice president for Agriculture.

The UA Division of Agriculture is a major supplier of foundation rice seed to seed dealers. Arkansas produces about half of the rice grown in the United States.

Transgenic rice varieties have been developed by seed companies and certified by the USDA as posing no risk to public health or the environment, but they have not been approved for commercial use due to their potential impact on trade with countries that prohibit the import of genetically modified rice. About half of the Arkansas rice crop is exported.

In August, the USDA announced that trace amounts of the LLRICE601 protein had been found in the U.S. rice supply. LLRICE601 is present in a non-commercial cultivar of transgenic rice developed by Bayer CropScience. The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is currently searching for the source of the contamination.

The university's rice breeding program and foundation seed program are based at the Rice Research and Extension Center near Stuttgart, Ark.

“We begin with a small amount of genetically pure seed from plant breeders,” said Shult. “We plant that seed and manage the fields very carefully to produce genetically pure foundation seed for sale to seed growers and dealers.”

Seed companies then use the foundation seed to grow “certified” and “registered” seed for sale to farmers. The process is regulated by the Arkansas State Plant Board to ensure that the supply of seed for planting meets quality standards.

“Our policy is that we don't work with transgenic rice on the center,” said RREC Director Christopher Deren.

The policy is to eliminate the possibility of transgenic seed being accidentally mixed with breeder or foundation seed.

“We submitted samples of breeder and foundation seed from the past three years to an independent laboratory for testing, and the LLRICE601 protein was not detected in any sample.”

Deren said seed samples from RREC were tested by Biodiagnostics of River Falls, Wis. The samples included foundation seed of the varieties Cocodrie for 2004 through 2006; Wells for 2004 through 2006; Cybonnet for 2004 through 2006; Banks for 2004 and 2005; Spring for 2005 and 2006; Francis for 2005 and 2006; and Cheniere for 2006.

Breeder seed tested, all from 2006, were the varieties Wells, Cybonnet, Spring, Francis and Cheniere. A sample of head row seed of the CL171AR variety from 2005 was also tested.

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