Rice Farming

 - USA Rice Federation Update -

U.S. rice is on the move again

By Tommy Hoskyn
USA Rice Producers’ Group

The U.S. rice industry has worked diligently and successfully since Aug. 18, 2006, to ensure the elimination of trace amounts of genetically engineered (GE) Liberty Link (LL) rice from the U.S. commercial long-grain supply. Many people who thought the job was too big to accomplish in one year, underestimated the ability and will of U.S. rice growers.   

After Aug. 18, retailers, pressured by special interest groups and worried consumers, began pulling rice from store shelves. In short time, the European Union (EU), as well as other markets, was closed to U.S. long-grain rice. By Oct. 14, even Russia had stopped importing U.S. rice.

The simple facts are that our industry, led by the USA Rice Federation, worked to ensure the establishment of a reliable regimen for testing and developed a seed plan that would eliminate the GE rice. Sixteen months after the announced discovery of the Liberty Link presence, the European Union’s Standing Committee of the Food Chain and Animal Health, on Dec. 20, 2007, followed the recommendation by staff of EU Health and Consumer Protection Directorate General (DG-SANCO) to eliminate the requirement of destination testing of U.S. long-grain rice at the first point of entry into the EU.

“Removing mandatory destination testing in the EU is the single most important step necessary for the restoration of the EU market for U.S. long-grain rice,” USA Rice Federation Chairman Al Montna said at the time. “Destination testing creates tremendous risk and uncertainty for U.S. shippers and EU customers and, as a result, has had the effect of slowing trade to a trickle.”

Mid-February deadline for European parliament
The decision by the Standing Committee has been called a victory for U.S. rice and is an affirmation that the U.S. rice industry can overcome even the most difficult challenges to deliver the high quality products consumers the world over demand. The European parliament has until mid-February to review the committee’s decision, after which time it would go into effect.

When USA Rice senior VP Bob Cummings presented the results of the U.S. rice industry’s yearlong remediation efforts to remove LL traits from the commercial supply to the EC standing committee in Brussels on Dec. 19, 2007, he was in the company of key rice industry trade leaders; Carl Brothers, senior VP Riceland Foods and chairman of USA Rice’s International Trade Policy Committee; and Marvin Baden, senior VP Producers’ Rice Mill and chairman of USA Rice’s EU Trade Policy Subcommittee. Others with Cummings were Hartwig Schmidt, USA Rice regional director for Europe/Middle East; and USDA representatives from the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels.

Further diligence from U.S. rice industry is needed
As Bob Cummings explains the EU decision, “The EU Commission (in the form of DG-SANCO) and the U.S. government (USDA/GIPSA) have agreed on a sampling and testing protocol for U.S. long-grain rice destined for the EU that meets EU standards and that provides direct involvement by USDA in the sampling of rice to be exported to the EU. Exports of U.S. long-grain rice to the EU were 282,000 metric tons (MT) in the 2005/06 marketing year prior to discovery of the LL traits. Exports were 50,000 MT in 2006/07.”

While the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service report about how the contamination required nearly 14 months to complete, USA Rice producers and the wider industry appreciate the help on this matter they have received from the APHIS, the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA).

“FAS and GIPSA officials were instrumental in negotiating a rice sampling and testing protocol with the European Commission, efforts that are at the core of removing the destination testing requirement,” USA Rice president and CEO Betsy Ward says.

Fully removing LL traits from the commercial supply will require more than one year’s effort. EU officials have said that they will continue to review testing requirements for U.S. rice, and the rice industry must continue to maintain its vigilance. It is now the industry’s job, with the appropriate help of government agencies to restore the marketability of U.S. rice in the EU and other key markets. Further diligence on the part of all U.S. rice farmers will ensure that we achieve that goal and more.

The world demand for U.S. rice, as Chicago Board of Trade prices demonstrate, is stronger than ever. World rice stocks are low, world population continues to rise, and let’s face it, no one grows high-quality, long-grain rice with the efficiency of U.S. farmers. It’s time to be bullish on U.S. rice again!

For more about USA Rice programs, visit www.usarice.com.