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Turkish Minister confirms genetically modified rice scandal

Staff writer |
The existence of a large amount of imported genetically modified rice in Turkey that was reportedly unearthed during an operation in 2013 was confirmed by Customs and Trade Minister Cenap Asci in response to a parliamentary question.

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Opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy Alim Isik asked Asci if genetically modified rice was seized during an operation in Mersin in 2013, and if so, how much was confiscated.

Asci said 73 tons of genetically modified rice and a significantly larger amount of unprocessed rice patties were seized in the operation. In the 2013 scandal, three ministers were accused of collaborating to save a pro-government businessman who faced charges of involvement in a genetically modified rice scandal.

The accusations were raised in June 2013 after the Mersin Chief Public Prosecutor's Office seized multiple tons of genetically modified rice at a Mersin port in April. Seven people were arrested on charges of “biological terrorism.”

According to claims put forth by the Taraf daily at the time, three ministers - then-Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin and Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker, as well as a third, unnamed minister - had intervened in the investigation to save Grain, Legumes and Oilseed Exporters Union Chairman Mahmut Arslan from facing charges.

Biosecurity Law No. 5977 prohibits the production of genetically modified foods in Turkey and makes it mandatory to secure permission from the ministry to transport these products through Turkey.

Individuals who produce genetically modified plants or animals, or release them into the environment, are subject to a prison term of between five and 10 years or the imposition of a fine ranging between TL 1,500 and TL 2,500, according to the law.

When the scandal was first revealed to the public, Food, Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Minister Eker firmly denied the reports. Following an event in Antalya in May, he stated, “What I am telling you as the minister of food, agriculture and animal husbandry is that our citizens can safely consume rice.”

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