WASHINGTON, DC, April 13, 2005 (ENS): Biotechnology firms
filed more than twice as many applications to the federal
government for open air experiments on crops engineered
to produce drugs and industrial chemicals in 2004 than
in the previous year, a study by the U.S. Public Interest
Research Group has found.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG)
is the national lobbying office for the state Public
Interest Research Groups. State PIRGs are non-profit,
non-partisan public interest advocacy organizations.
The report, "Raising Risk: Field Testing of Genetically
Engineered Crops in the U.S.," highlights potential
health and environmental risks associated with the release
of genetically engineered plants.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has yet to
amend its regulations after being criticized by the
National Academy of Sciences for inadequate expertise,
still, PIRG’s analysis shows that the agency "continues
to rubberstamp applications and fails to collect adequate
data on environmental impacts."
U.S. PIRG's study found that as of January 2005, the
14 states and territories that have hosted the greatest
number of field test sites are: Hawaii (5,413), Illinois
(5,092), Iowa (4,659), Puerto Rico (3,483), California
(1,964), Nebraska (1,960), Pennsylvania (1,707), Minnesota
(1,701), Texas (1,494), Indiana (1,489), Idaho (1,272),
Wisconsin (1,246),Georgia (1,051), and Mississippi (1,008).
Since 1991, USDA has received 240 requests for 418
field releases of crops engineered to produce pharmaceuticals,
industrial chemicals, or other so-called biopharmaceuticals;
the number of requested field releases of “biopharm”
crops increased from 22 in 2003 to 55 in 2004.
The 10 crops authorized for the most field releases
are corn, soybean, cotton, potato, tomato, wheat, creeping
bentgrass, alfalfa, beet, and rice.
USDA authorized field tests on several crops for the
first time in 2003 and 2004, including American chestnut,
American elm, avocado, banana, eucalyptus, marigold,
safflower, sorghum, and sugarbeet.
Nearly 70 percent of all field tests conducted in the
last year now contain secret genes classified as “Confidential
Business Information,” which means that the public
has no access to information about experiments conducted
in their communities.
These experimental genetically engineered crops are
growing in the open environment primarily to determine
whether or not an engineered seed successfully grows
and expresses the desired trait.
U.S. PIRG charged that field testing genetically engineered
crops in such a widespread way poses serious threats
to the environment, public health, and neighboring farmers.
“Our environment has become a laboratory for
widespread experimentation on genetically engineered
crops with profound risks that, once released, can never
be recalled,” said U.S. PIRG environmental advocate
Richard Caplan. “Until proper safeguards are in
place, this unchecked experiment should stop.”
“Evidence continues to mount that the regulatory
system in place in this country is based on the principle
of ‘don’t look, don’t find,’”
said Caplan. “Poorly designed field tests take
large risks with no benefits.”
Another goal of the field tests is to obtain information
about potential ecological risks associated with genetically
engineered organisms. However, independent reviews of
the data collected by the USDA demonstrate that very
little data has been collected. Despite the large number
of field experiments that have occurred, fundamental
questions about their impact remain unanswered, including
long-term impacts on the soil and non-target species.
U.S. PIRG renewed its call for a moratorium on genetically
engineered foods unless independent testing demonstrates
safety; labeling for any products commercialized honors
consumers’ right to know, and the biotechnology
corporations are held accountable for any harm resulting
from their products.
“Genetically engineered foods have no place on
our dinner tables or in our environment until proper
safeguards are in place,” said Caplan. “This
rush to market without regard for human health and the
environment could be disastrous.”
The USDA holds the general policy that genetically
engineered crops are not different enough from traditional
crops to consider them unsafe.