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TITLE:  Firm Fined for Spread Of Altered Corn Genes 
        Government Wasn't Told Soon Enough
SOURCE: The Washington Post, USA, by Justin Gillis
        http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/
        A27846-2003Apr23.html
DATE:   Apr 24, 2003

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


Firm Fined for Spread Of Altered Corn Genes 
Government Wasn't Told Soon Enough

The nation's leading seed company was fined $72,000 yesterday for violating
government requirements in testing experimental corn in Hawaii, the latest
setback for a biotechnology industry struggling to comply with government
rules.

The Environmental Protection Agency imposed the fines on Pioneer Hi-Bred
International Inc. of Des Moines after the company failed to promptly notify the
government of tests showing that genes from experimental corn had spread to
other corn grown nearby.

The incident, involving a minuscule amount of corn, occurred at a Pioneer
test center on the island of Kauai, well removed from any commercial food or
seed production.

The company and the government said no unapproved corn variety had entered
the nation's food system.

"Our primary goal is to make sure it doesn't get into the food supply," said
Amy Miller, an enforcement officer overseeing the case at the EPA's regional
office in San Francisco. "We feel that based on the testing, there is no
risk that it did."

Still, the test results disturbed advocacy groups tracking the development
of agricultural biotechnology and the government's attempts to regulate it. It
was the latest in a string of incidents in which genetically altered plants
or their pollen wound up in unexpected places.

Most of the incidents have been quite small, and unapproved crops are known
to have wound up in the food supply in only one case. But some advocates say
the problems cast doubt on a fundamental premise of government policy: that
experimental varieties of corn or other crops can be planted in fields but
kept out of food crops.

"What this shows is that there really needs to be much more serious
oversight of experimental trials," said Gregory Jaffe, director of biotechnology
issues at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington group that
supports the technology in principle but believes it has been poorly
regulated. "We're kidding ourselves if we think these genes are being contained by
current standards."

Courtney Chabot Dreyer, a spokeswoman for Pioneer, a subsidiary of DuPont
Co., said unexpected genes were found in only 12 corn plants out of more than
300,000 tested. "To put that into perspective, that's four-thousandths of a
percent," she said. She added that the company would seek to improve its
practices.

The EPA reported the incident to the Agriculture Department, which also has
jurisdiction in such matters.

The EPA was disturbed by the company's failure to notify it promptly when
the experimental genes were found. That was a breach of an agreement made by
EPA and the company in December, after Pioneer acknowledged separate violations
on another nearby plot and was fined nearly $10,000.

"I won't make any excuses for the company," Dreyer said. "We were fined
$72,000 for missing a deadline. It was a regrettable oversight, and we take
complete responsibility for it."

The 12 plants, which were growing on a test plot, unexpectedly contained
genetic alterations allowing them to produce a protein that is toxic to insects.
The experimental protein is not yet approved for human consumption. The
altered genes might have spread when pollen moved from other experimental corn
plots nearby, a type of "gene flow" that government planting rules are supposed
to prevent.

Jaffe noted that the problem wouldn't have been caught if Pioneer's
violations last year hadn't prompted the government to widen the testing program.

"It was pure luck that they caught it, a complete fluke," Jaffe said. "The
government doesn't want to look. We sort of have a 'don't ask, don't tell'
policy."



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