USDA Tries to Block Planting of Possible Biotech Rice

MARCH 6, 2007 - Posted at 7:18 a.m. CST

WASHINGTON - A rice variety that was the second-most popular for planting last year in Arkansas has been targeted by the federal Agriculture Department.  A USDA official said yesterday that the agency is trying to block the planting and distribution of the long-grain rice seed designated Clearfield C-L-131 because it may contain traces of genetically engineered rice.

The department began telling distributors on Sunday that they must hold the rice seed, scheduled for planting this spring.  Clearfield C-L-131 is trademarked by BASF AG, a German company that is the world's largest chemical maker and is licensed for marketing by Horizon Ag of Memphis.

The USDA said Clearfield C-L-131 was not developed as a genetically modified rice.  But BASF and Horizon Ag reported to the department last week that test results had shown possible traces of unapproved genetic material.

Last month, the Arkansas Plant Board voted 5-to-1 to allow farmers to plant Clearfield C-L-131, despite those possible traces of unapproved genetic material.  Arkansas is the nation's largest producer of rice.

Last summer, the USDA announced that traces of an unapproved, genetically engineered rice had been discovered in American long-grain rice supplies.  That prompted the European Union to bar imports of U.S. rice, devastating the American rice market.

The LL-RICE-601 modification, which was never marketed, was genetically engineered to resist Bayer's "Liberty" herbicide.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)