Food standards Agency escapes censure in GM rice judicial review

The Food Standards Agency made mistakes in its handling of last year’s genetically modified rice scare but did not act unlawfully, a High Court judge has ruled.

Friends of the Earth brought a claim for judicial review against the FSA, arguing it breached EU law by allowing the sale of rice imported from the US which was contaminated with experimental GM strain LL601 (ENDS Report 382, pp 22-23 ). No GM rice strains are approved for human consumption in the EU.

Lord Justice Calvert considered whether the FSA should have issued a "food alert", notified the public about the contaminated batches and provided guidance to local authorities at the start of the incident. He concluded "it may well be that the process of reflection will suggest to the [FSA] that more should have been done… earlier than it was. But in my judgment there must be a margin within which an agency… has to be allowed to make its own decisions and even, to some extent, its own mistakes without attracting legal sanction."

The inference likely to be drawn from the judgment is that regulators like the FSA are entitled to take their view of the safety threat posed by an incident into consideration when planning their response.

  • Another rice contamination scare hit US farmers in early March. The US Department of Agriculture issued a statement warning farmers not to plant Clearfield CL131, a strain marketed by BASF, following evidence it was contaminated with an unapproved GM strain.