PANNA: Coalition to Sue USDA over Biotech Crops Containing Pharmaceuticals


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Coalition to Sue USDA over Biotech Crops Containing Pharmaceuticals
March 7, 2003

A coalition of consumer, environmental and farm organizations took legal action against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to halt the planting of biopharm crops–crops genetically engineered to contain pharmaceuticals or industrial chemicals. The coalition filed a letter notifying the USDA of their intention to file suit in federal court within 60 days. The notice cites the agency’s gross violations of law for allowing the field testing of biopharm crops without performing the required environmental safety studies.

“The environmental and human health risks associated with biopharm crops are substantial,” stated Peter Jenkins, Staff Attorney for the Center for Food Safety. “By allowing these experimental, genetically engineered crops onto U.S. farms without the required impact analysis, USDA is risking permanent contamination of the environment and our food supply.”

The notice was filed by the Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Edmonds Institute, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, International Center for Technology Assessment, National Family Farm Coalition, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network North America and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. The legal action was taken in the wake of recent revelations of biocontamination of food crops in Iowa and Nebraska by corn genetically engineered to manufacture an unknown pharmaceutical or industrial chemical. On November 17, 2002, USDA announced that two biocontamination incidents had occurred in which genetically engineered corn developed by Prodigene, Inc. polluted conventional soybeans and neighboring corn fields.

Biotechnology companies have conducted over 300 field trials across the country since 1991. The organizations taking action fear that contamination of the U.S. corn supply with genetically engineered pharmaceuticals may have already occurred.

On March 6, 2003, USDA announced that it would not stop field trials of biopharm crops, but that the agency is proposing new regulations. Under these new rules, pharmaceutical corn crops must be planted at least one mile away from other crops destined for human and livestock food. Current USDA regulations call for a half-mile separation. Additional new rules include an increase in the number of field site inspections, restrictions on the production of food and feed crops at the test site the following season, and use of dedicated mechanized equipment for planting and harvesting.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the world’s largest association of food, beverage and consumer product companies, stated in a press release that the changes are “insufficient to ensure food supply safety.”

Environmental groups say that the proposed rules do not go far enough. On December 16, 2002, several organizations filed a separate legal petition calling on the USDA to prohibit open-air cultivation of all crops genetically engineered with biopharmaceuticals (such as vaccines), industrial chemicals or other substances with potential human health impacts.

Sources: Center for Food Safety press release, March 5, 2003. USDA Press Release, March 6, 2003. Grocery Manufacturers of America press release, March 6, 2003.

Contact: Center for Food Safety, 660 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, Suite 302, Washington DC 20003; phone (202) 647-9359; fax (202) 547-9429;

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