UPDATE: As expected, on Wednesday (June 9) the EU published a decision to lift emergency measures on imports of U.S. long-grain rice. Mandatory testing of U.S. long-grain rice is no longer required. To read the decision, visit EU Commission Decision.

For the first time in nearly four years, U.S. long-grain rice is poised to reach European markets unencumbered by restrictions to keep an unapproved GM trait from reaching consumers.

U.S. rice sales took a massive hit when the EU imposed emergency regulations and, even with the regulations removed, rebuilding lost markets will not be accomplished overnight.

For more on the GM rice issue, see http://southwestfarmpress.com/searchresults/?ord=d&terms=gm+rice&x=0&y=0.

In early June, Southwest Farm Press spoke with Bob Cummings, USA Rice Federation senior vice president, about the situation. Among his comments:

Some may be unaware why this is an issue. Can you briefly explain why the EU had a problem with U.S. rice in the first place?

“Back in August 2006, the USDA announced there were trace amounts of a genetically engineered trait in the U.S. long-grain supply. That trait was LibertyLink 601 (LL601), developed by Bayer CropScience. It protected rice plants from a broad-spectrum herbicide.

“The problem with the presence of LL601 in the commercial supply is the trait wasn’t approved in any country — including the United States — back in August 2006. At the time, Bayer CropScience was working on commercializing another trait, LL62.

“Fast-forward and the United States, through its regulatory process, was able to approve LL601 very quickly. However, it remains approved only in the United States.

“After the USDA announcement in 2006, many countries took regulatory action. The most severe reaction was in the EU, where LL601 was illegal — and it remains illegal to this day.

“The result is the U.S. lost, for all intents and purposes, the long-grain market in the EU. Our exports dropped tremendously. They were around 275,000 metric tons before the announcement. For 2009, the exports were down to around 60,000 to 75,000 tons — a tremendous drop.”

Since then the U.S. has been trying to placate the foreign markets and finally seeing success?

“In recognition that … Bayer had no intention of getting the trait approved (overseas) and because of tremendous consumer resistance in many foreign markets to genetically engineered rice, the industry decided in late 2006 to take best efforts to remove the LL601 trait from the supply. We’ve had three years of experience with that and the test results from the 2009 long-grain crop came back negative for the LibertyLink trait. That was very good news.

“We took that information, along with the ‘seed plan’ — shorthand for the industry’s plan to remove the LL601 trait — and have been trying to get the EU to remove their regulatory restrictions on U.S. long-grain rice. Those restrictions have to do with mandating the testing of U.S. long-grain rice before it leaves (the United States). Only if you get a negative test for LL601 can it be brought into Europe.

“We told the Europeans, ‘Look, we’ve had three years of testing and have the seed plan. Our most recent year of testing shows no LL601 presence. Your requirement for mandatory origin testing — which you call an emergency measure — is (aimed at something) that is no longer an emergency. We’re now close to four years after the fact, we’re not finding LL601 in tests and we’d really like you to remove the emergency measures. Take off that regulatory black eye on U.S. long-grain.’

“Well, on April 19, EU member states agreed to lift the emergency measure, remove the requirement for mandatory origin testing.”

On further steps by the EU…

“It’s our expectation that, on June 8, the European Commission will formally lift the emergency measures. A couple of days later, the lifting should show up in the Official Journal, the EU version of the Federal Register. Once it shows up in print, the measures will be gone and the regulatory restriction on U.S. long-grain rice will be lifted. At that point, U.S. exporters and the Rice Federation can focus 100 percent on trying to rebuild the long-grain market in Europe.

“Clearly the lifting of the emergency measures is a great success for the U.S. rice industry. But we have a lot of work ahead. The market is much reduced from here it was prior to LibertyLink trait discovery.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com