Organic rice companies impacted by GM rice contamination

The recent discovery of unapproved genetically modified Liberty Link 601 rice in conventional rice supplies is impacting several suppliers and manufacturers of organic rice and ingredients.

After the GM rice contamination was discovered, Lundberg Family Farms, based in Richvale, California, immediately suspended production of all its rice products containing long grain rice from the southern United States where the GM rice contamination problem originated. They sent ingredient samples to a laboratory for testing. In a statement on the company’s website, Lundberg said that some ingredients tested positive for trace amounts of LL601. Lundberg immediately replaced those ingredients with California-grown rice ingredients.

Lundberg also sent samples of its long grain and aromatic rice seed for LL601 testing, and these tested negative. The website statement said, “Our California grown products have not been affected by the LL601 strain. We stand behind our promises to customers, and are proud to offer over 150 all natural, quality rice products.”

Lundberg is opposed to GM crops and says it is “committed to vigilantly providing the facts as we know them to our valued customers and consumers.”

“Keep GM rice out of California”
California-based SunWest Foods, a major supplier of conventional and organic rice is also seeing impacts of the GM rice problem. The company’s European customers are demanding GMO testing of SunWest’s wild rice, which is a completely different variety of rice. “That shows how important an issue this is in Europe. It’s a big deal,” says John Hasbrook, vice president.

The GM rice problem also jeopardizes the Japanese market, which buys 40% of all rice grown in California. Losing that market, says Hasbrook, would be devastating.

As a result, SunWest opposes research and production of GM rice in California. “It’s in our best interest to take the most aggressive measures to keep GM rice out of California,” says Hasbrook.

Arkansas-based Southern Brown Rice, which produces organic brown and white rice, saw all its export sales stop until its rice was tested, says company owner Willadean Hogue. “It had a big impact,” she says. On top of that, Hogue says there was a delay in getting the tests completed.

Luckily, her harvested rice tested negative. “We ended up being okay, but it really has been a problem,” says Hogue.

“Very frustrating”
Ribus, a manufacturer of rice ingredients based in St. Louis, Missouri, has also been impacted by the GM rice contamination problem. Ribus is testing incoming raw material, but Bayer CropScience has not provided a test for processed rice products, which its European customers want. “There is not a valid test for that yet. It’s very frustrating,” says Matt Burridge, director of global brands.

As a result, Ribus is waiting for a test to become available. However, Bayer has not been very forthcoming about providing information, says Burridge.

Despite the contamination problem, Burridge remains confident. “We feel there is no GM rice in our products,” he says. “It may help our business if customers convert to organic to be assured there is no GMO in it.”
Ribus sells both non-GMO and organic rice ingredients, but the organic products have not been affected because they are made from rice grown outside of the southern US.

In the long run, Burridge believes buyers of rice and ingredients will demand identity preservation to ensure products are non-GMO. “That will become a requirement or they will decide to buy organic,” he says.

“Less concern”
One company not affected by the GM contamination problem is Texas Best Organics, a supplier of long- and medium-grain organic rice based in China, Texas. “We see less concern on our end,” says Cecil Slack, president.

The main reason Slack is confident is that Texas Best Organics purchases its seed from RiceTec, which produces seed under strict IP guidelines. “It offers some hope and assurance that it isn’t contaminated,” says Slack.

So far, Slack says none of his customers have asked for LL601 testing.

Meanwhile, demand for organic rice, as with other organic grains, is outstripping supply. “Demand is strong and supplies aren’t meeting the demand,” says Slack.

Looking at the big picture, Slack is concerned about GMOs. “If GMO seed continues to be dispersed, it could go everywhere and anywhere to the extent where people don’t know if their rice is contaminated,” he says.

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report 2006. (November 2006).