HONOLULU, Hawaii, Feburary 8, 2005 (ENS): The U.S. Department
of Agriculture was forced by court order on Friday to
reveal the locations of test sites of biopharmaceutical
crops in Hawaii to four environmental groups that have
sued the government to obtain this information. This
marks the first time the federal government has been
forced to disclose the location of field tests of genetically
engineered crops since it began keeping these locations
from the public.
Following the ruling, representatives of the USDA handed
over to Earthjustice attorneys information on the precise
locations of open-air field tests of biopharmaceutical
crops genetically engineered to produce industrial chemicals
The court has not yet ruled on the public disclosure
issue, and until then, plaintiffs cannot reveal the
locations to the public at large.
Earthjustice, representing citizen groups Center for
Food Safety (CFS), Friends of the Earth, Pesticide Action
Network North America, and KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental
Alliance, filed a lawsuit in November 2003 in federal
district court, seeking to compel USDA to review the
environmental and public health impacts of such activities.
In August 2004, District Court Judge David Ezra ordered
the disclosure, rejecting the government’s and
the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s claims
of potential "espionage," "vandalism,"
and "civil unrest."
The government and industry resisted disclosure since
that ruling through a series of delay requests. At a
hearing Friday, Judge Ezra denied their latest motion
for a stay of disclosure, and the government handed
the information to plaintiffs’ counsel.
"This ruling is an important first step toward
the day when citizens can find out if biopharmaceutical
crops are growing near their food crops or their back
yards," said Paul Achitoff, an Earthjustice attorney.
"No one wants to accidentally get contraceptives
in their corn flakes," Achitoff said. "Given
the potentially disastrous effects these experiments
could have on human health and the environment, we hope
this ruling will result in lifting the veil of secrecy."
The plaintiffs sought information on the locations
of these field tests in response to the government’s
arguments that plaintiffs lacked standing to sue because
they had not specified the precise locations of the
Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren originally ordered discovery
of the locations in April 2004, ruling that the mere
locations of the field tests were not confidential business
information. Judge Ezra affirmed the ruling in August,
but preliminarily limited disclosure to plaintiffs only,
and allowed the government and industry 90 days to come
up with better support for denying public access to
"Allowing food crops to be engineered to produce
chemicals or drugs is bad enough," said Peter Jenkins
of CFS, "but hiding the location of the test fields
from an at-risk public is indefensible. Yet we find
our own government fighting on the side of the biotech
industry to keep the public in the dark about drug-laced
Plaintiffs’ attorneys are still reviewing the
information to see whether it complies with the court’s
order. This latest development should allow plaintiffs’
November 2003 lawsuit calling for environmental reviews
to move forward.
"With this order," said Jenkins, "we
may at last be able to find out how close these experiments
are to conventional food crops, ecologically sensitive
areas, and our homes and schools. The next step will
be to compel our government to investigate the impacts
from these biotech crops."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All