PANNA: Thousands of Field Tests of GE Crops Across the U.S.


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Thousands of Field Tests of GE Crops Across the U.S.
June 16, 2001

Nearly 29,000 field tests of genetically engineered organisms were authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) between 1987 and 2000 despite serious environmental threats and inadequate regulations in place to monitor their impacts, according to a new report released by the State Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) and Genetically Engineered Food Alert.

When the science of genetic engineering began in the 1970s, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said experiments that released genetically engineered organisms into the environment were too hazardous and should not be performed. Despite these early calls for caution, a booming agriculture biotechnology industry has developed. The report, Raising Risk: Field Testing of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., documents the extent of field testing of genetically engineered crops in the U.S. and highlights the potential risks associated with release of genetically engineered organisms into the environment. If field experiments are not properly monitored, genetic pollution may result, putting farmers' livelihoods and the environment at risk.

Key findings of the report include:

* USDA has approved nearly 29,000 field tests through the year 2000.

* More than 60% of all field tests conducted in the last year contain genes classified as "Confidential Business Information."

* Between 1987&endash;2000, Monsanto (or a now wholly-owned subsidiary) applied to conduct the greatest number of field tests every year, totaling nearly 2,000 applications.

* Since 1995, seven of the top 10 companies seeking to conduct field tests have merged into two companies: Monsanto and DuPont.

* As of January 2001, the ten states and territories that have hosted the greatest number of field test sites are: Hawaii (3,275), Illinois (2,832), Iowa (2,820), Puerto Rico (2,296), California (1,435), Idaho (1,060), Minnesota (1,055), Nebraska (971), Wisconsin (918), and Indiana (886).

These experimental genetically engineered crops are grown in the open environment to test the outcome and environmental impact of certain gene combinations. The groups charged that field testing genetically engineered crops in such a widespread way poses serious threats to neighboring farms and the environment.

"Any new technology must be tested, but there are important scientific issues that must be addressed before genetically engineered foods can be released into the environment," said Richard Caplan, U.S. PIRG. "To conduct field tests before this has been done is both premature and hazardous; it is like carrying out clinical trials of a drug before the laboratory tests are complete."

A 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 Department of Agriculture demonstrate that little data has been collected. 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.

Genetically Engineered Food Alert supports the removal of genetically engineered ingredients from grocery store shelves unless they are adequately safety tested and labeled. Genetically Engineered Food Alert founding members include: Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, National Environmental Trust, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network North America, and the State Public Interest Research Groups. The campaign is endorsed by more than 200 scientists, religious leaders, doctors, chefs, environmental and health leaders, as well as farm groups. Find out more about the campaign at http://www.gefoodalert.org.

Source: Raising Risk: Field Testing of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., is available at http://www.gefoodalert.org.

Contact: Richard Caplan, U.S. PIRG, 218 D Street SE, Washington DC 20003; phone 202-546-9707; email rcaplan@pirg.org.

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