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A Philippine court has temporarily halted an application to bring genetically modified (GM) rice to the country, pending a study of possible health and environmental effects.

A temporary restraining order was issued yesterday (18 September) after Greenpeace, together with other nongovernmental organisations, challenged the Philippine government's right to approve Bayer Crop Science's LL62, a herbicide-tolerant type of hybrid rice.

The order prohibits the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) from approving Bayer's application to introduce LL62 for food, animal feed and the manufacture of other products.

A statement from the court said the order would "preserve the status quo until the merits of the case can be heard". No date has yet been set for the a new hearing.

Bayer submitted its application to BPI in August 2006. If eventually approved, it will be the first GM rice in the Philippines.

Environmental group Greenpeace filed its injunction on 23 August this year, citing several concerns over LL62, particularly the absence of public consultations, as required by the Philippine law. The injunction also pushes for a review of the approval process for GM plants in the country.

"It will be a big mistake to allow GM rice to enter our food supply.  It has never been proven safe for human consumption and poses grave risks to the environment and to our health," said Daniel Ocampo, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Genetic Engineering Campaigner.

Agnes Lintao, policy officer for Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (Searice), another of the petitioners, said approval of LL62 would open the floodgates to further GM rice contamination in the Philippines and that the government should abandon all applications for GM organisms.

Bayer say the LL62 rice variety is safe for human consumption, and produces a protein conferring herbicide tolerance that is commercially available in Canada, the European Union, Japan, Mexico, Russia and the United States.

"Bayer Crop Science believes that this rice poses no harm on human health, food or feed. It has also been confirmed in many trials that it did not exhibit weedy characteristics, or negatively affect other organisms," said the company's communications manager, Reynaldo Cutanda.