Posted September 1, 2005 (Environment Maine, 8/18/05
as reported by CropChoice): More than 47,000
field tests of genetically engineered crops were authorized
by the U.S. Department of Agriculture between 1987 and
2004 despite serious environmental threats and inadequate
regulations in place to monitor their impacts, according
to a new report released today by Environment Maine
Research & Policy Center and Maine Organic Farmers
and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). Three hundred seventy-five
of these tests were conducted in Maine, mostly for genetically
Both the National Academy of Sciences and the General
Accounting Office have criticized the USDA for inadequate
oversight and expertise in authorizing the release of
genetically engineered crops.
Nevertheless, this new study reveals substantial increases
in 2003 and 2004 of testing of crops engineered to produce
pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals, as well as
of many new crops never before released.
The report, Raising Risk: Field Testing of Genetically
Engineered Crops in the U.S., highlights potential
risks associated with the release of genetically engineered
plants. The results of large scale field trials conducted
over many years were just published in the March 2005
Proceedings of the Royal Society demonstrating adverse
effects on wildlife, but experiments conducted in the
United States continue to be piecemeal and short term.
Scientists have criticized research in this country
as deliberately designed to hide any harm.
Coincidentally, this report is released on the heels
of three Maine towns, Kennebunk, Brooklin and Kennebunkport
considering opposition to genetically engineered organisms.
Kennebunk selectmen rejected a petition from citizens
to place a ban on genetically engineered organisms,
Brooklin citizens voted in favor of a non-enforceable
measure to declare their town a GE Free Zone, and Kennebunkport
is considering a measure identical to Brooklin.
"Our environment is being used as a laboratory
for widespread experimentation on genetically engineered
organisms with profound risks that, once released, can
never be recalled," said Environment Maine Advocate
Matthew Davis. "Bt corn plants have been found
to be toxic to monarch butterflies and other non-target
species. Until proper safeguards are in place, this
unchecked experiment should stop."
Findings of the new Environment Maine Research &
Policy Center report include:
As of January 2005, the fourteen 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
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.
Nearly 70% 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 being
conducted in their communities.
The ten crops authorized for the greatest number of
field releases are corn, soybean, cotton, potato,
tomato, wheat, creeping bentgrass, alfalfa, beet,
and rice. Potatoes have had 143 field releases in
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.
"For over a decade, MOFGA has called for the preparation
of an Environmental Impact Statement under the National
Environmental Policy Act prior to any field testing
or field release of GE plants or other organisms. We're
still waiting," said Sharon Tisher, Chair of the
MOFGA Public Policy Committee. "Not only the distinguished
National Academy of Sciences, but also the staff of
the U.S. Department of the Interior, have raised serious
questions about the risk of GE crops and animals becoming
harmful invasive species. Also, GE crops that present
a risk of genetic contamination of organic crops are
a direct economic threat to certified organic farms."
A major 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 information has been gathered. As a result, 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
"The evidence continues to mount that the U.S.
regulatory system is based on the principle of ‘don’t
look, don’t find,’" said Davis. "Conducting
field tests that are poorly designed is taking large
risks without any benefits."