PORTLAND, Maine, 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 engineered potatoes.
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
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
Findings of the new Environment Maine Research & Policy Center
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 (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.
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 Maine .
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 species.
"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."