August 5, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Sean Hao, Honolulu Advertiser:
The federal government must reveal where companies grow
genetically modified pharmaceutical crops in Hawai'i,
a judge ruled yesterday.
Public interest groups are seeking the information
to force the government to study the environmental impact
of the crops they see as potentially dangerous. The
government and industry contend public disclosure could
lead to crop vandalism and corporate espionage of trade
After weighing the arguments, U.S. District Judge David
Ezra ordered the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify
where four companies have received permits for open-field
testing of pharmaceutical crops in Hawai'i and to reveal
the locations to the environmental watchdog group Earthjustice
and the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit that challenges
food production technologies.
"It's definitely a victory," said Isaac Moriwake,
an attorney for Earthjustice. "It's basically an
affirmation that the defendants haven't been able to
show that this kind of information is confidential."
Ezra gave the USDA another 90 days to prove that releasing
the locations to the public would cause irreparable
damage to the biotech industry. That step could force
biotech companies to look elsewhere to conduct their
pharmaceutical crop tests, a biotech industry representative
"It's disappointing," said Lisa Dry, a spokeswoman
for the Biotechnology Industry Organization. If crop
locations were made public, it would be "a real
detriment for continuing to do business in that area.
Basically it would be viewed as an unfriendly business
environment for technology of any sort."
Earthjustice sought the locations of so-called biopharms
to force the USDA to conduct environmental impact statements
before allowing open-field crop research. Biopharming
is a relatively new area of research where plants are
engineered to produce nonfood items, such as drugs or
industrial chemicals. Without confirmation of the locations,
Earthjustice would have difficulty making the case for
an environmental impact statement.
Ezra said yesterday that the locations of such tests
don't constitute confidential business information.
He also said the government and the Biotechnology Industry
Organization failed to provide sufficient evidence that
such crops would be damaged if their locations were
Representatives for both sides of the issue said this
would be the first time in the United States that locations
of biopharm tests would be revealed to an outside party.
That could set a precedent for similar disclosures in
other states and could pave the way for disclosing the
locations of all genetically modified crop research.
In Hawai'i, Monsanto Co., the Hawaii Agriculture Research
Center, ProdiGene Inc. and Garst Seed Co. have been
granted permits to test biopharm crops. Under Ezra's
order, the locations of the testing will be disclosed
to Earthjustice, but they must keep the information
confidential for at least 90 days.
Environmental groups and food processors contend that
open-field testing of biopharm crops is racing ahead
of what is known about potential risks to the environment,
people and the food supply. Industry officials contend
that government regulations sufficiently minimize such
Dry said research into using plants to produce drugs
or industrial chemicals holds promise for producing
compounds cheaper and faster than in factories. The
seed-crop industry employs an estimated 1,190 people
in Hawai'i in relatively high-wage jobs. In the past
decade, the value of the state's seed-crop industry,
40 percent of which is estimated to involve genetically
engineered crops, has grown fivefold, to a record $50.5
million. The amount spent on biopharm crop tests is
unknown, but represents a small fraction of the industry
Hawai'i leads all states in open-air test sites of
genetically engineered crops.
Michael Rodemeyer, executive director for the independent
Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, said there
are strong arguments on both sides of the disclosure
"Certainly there are ways to make more information
available to consumers," he said. "It's not
clear that crop location information is really going
to help people understand more about what these safety
"It may give them a greater sense of confidence,
but that has to in turn be weighed against the potential
that these crops could end up being destroyed which
may end up spreading some of these crops around."