E-mail this article to
yourself or a friend.
Enter address:


USDA 'rubber stamping' GE industry experiments, putting public at risk

(Friday, June 20, 2003 -- CropChoice news) --Paul Elias via The Agribusiness Examiner: Coors Brewing Co., Frito-Lay and H.J. Heinz were among U.S. companies dabbling in genetically modified crops in recent years even as consumer acceptance of such products remained in doubt.

The experiments were among thousands of similar tests broadly outlined in a 600-page report critical of federal regulators that was released [June 18] by the advocacy group Environment California Research & Policy Center.

The center is among environmental groups that claim poor government oversight of the open-air tests that could allow "genetic contamination" of the food supply.

The report showed 15,400 gene-splicing experiments have been done involving more than 100 crops since 1987, when the Department of Agriculture first started permitting open-air experiments, the anti-biotech group said.

The experiments took place at more than 40,000 locations in all but three states.

A record number of applications to sell genetically engineered crops for human consumption is expected to soon follow, the center said.

Monsanto Co. and DuPont and its subsidiaries have applied for thousands of Department of Agriculture permits to experiment with genetically altered plants in the last 16 years.

Food and beverage makers, such as Coors' work with engineered barley, dabbled with genetically modified crops, though no major food maker has applied for a permit since 2000.

Most of the outdoor experiments were approved in the last five years, with a dramatic influx occurring since 2001 and involving seed companies.

According to the report, most of the experiments have been carried out in Hawaii, followed by Illinois, Iowa, Puerto Rico and California.

The most active applicant by far is Monsanto, which applied for 3,309 field experiments since 1987. Corn, cotton and potatoes were the three most popular crops for experimentation.

Few of these products have been sold to the public, and soy and corn are the only two approved food crops that are widely engineered.

The United States is embroiled in a bitter trade dispute with the European Union over its refusal to accept genetically engineered food, while Monsanto is aggressively moving to get its modified wheat approved for human consumption.

"This is a very pivotal time for biotechnology," said Leonard Gianetti of the biotech industry-supported National Center for Food & Agricultural Policy.

Gianetti said many biotechnology researchers are in the final stages of their experiments on crops with such genetically engineered improvements as resistance to bugs and weed killers.

Biotech analysts said the increased research activity is a good sign for a beleaguered industry that needs to bolster its bottom line, as well as for farmers looking to improve their yields and profits.

But the Environment California concludes in yesterday's report that USDA oversight of the experiments has been lax, putting the public and environment at risk.

"The agency denies almost no permits, authorizes a large number of permits and allows little public scrutiny," said Richard Caplan, the report's author.

USDA spokesman Jim Rogers declined comment, saying the agency hadn't reviewed the study.

Another advocacy group, meanwhile, released its own report yesterday.

It accused the Environmental Protection Agency of shirking its responsibility to ensure that genetically modified crops don't harm the environment.

Nearly 10,000 Midwest farms that grow genetically modified corn failed to plant enough naturally growing corn on their land to prevent insect from becoming resistant to the modified plants, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found.

The EPA requires that a farmer's genetically engineered corn crop be ringed by natural corn equal to 20% of the entire harvest. The center found that many Midwest farmers aren't planting any natural corn.

"Non-compliance on this scale shows that current regulations aren't up to the task," said the center's Gregory Jaffe.

The center says it unearthed violations after filing Freedom of Information Act requests with the USDA.

Jaffe said the EPA and the biotech industry need to increase inspections and better educate farmers on how to plant genetically modified crops.

EPA spokesman Dave Deegan said the agency will consider the center's recommendations, but it believes it already has tough regulations in place.