2-Plants: Hawai'i is no paradise for GE pharma crops
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TITLE: No paradise for pharming
Lawsuit seeking information on Hawaii test fields is just the
beginning, activists say
SOURCE: Science, USA, by Charles Q Choi
DATE: Jul 30, 2003
------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------
No paradise for pharming
Lawsuit seeking information on Hawaii test fields is just the beginning,
Environmental groups are suing for public access to Hawaii state
agricultural records concerning field tests of genetically modified (GM)
crops. Attorneys expect that the legal action represents the beginning of
further activism in Hawaii, now the leading US hotspot for agricultural
Attorney Isaac Moriwake of the environmentalist law firm Earthjustice
told The Scientist that federal records show 14 permits for biopharming,
or growing drugs with genetically altered plants, in Hawaii were issued
between 1999 and 2002. However, the permits do not specify where test
plots are, which genes are undergoing alteration, or what kind of
substance is being produced.
"Among concerns we have with these field tests is they use food crops,
and they take place in open air. There are also unique ecosystems in
Hawaii with a great concentration of endangered species that could be
affected if plants get out of field trial areas," said Joseph Mendelson,
legal director of the Center for Food Safety, a national watchdog group
in Washington, D.C. Mendelson cited past incidents of possible food crop
contamination by pharmed crops grown by ProdiGene in the mainland United
Hawaii's balmy winters allow firms to grow crops in open-air field trials
year-round, said Biotechnology Industry Organization spokeswoman Lisa
Dry. Experiments are being conducted there on corn, tobacco, soy, papaya,
cotton, rice, sunflowers, and wheat by Dow, Monsanto, DuPont, ProdiGene,
Syngenta, and other biotech giants, as well as by academic institutions
such as the University of Arizona and Iowa State University.
"Biotechnology saved the $17 million papaya industry in Hawaii," Dry
added, noting that biotech research developed a papaya resistant to the
ringspot virus that was destroying the industry.
Local concern about GM crops grew in Hawaii after the US Environmental
Protection Agency cited biotech leaders Dow AgroSciences of Indiana and
Pioneer Hi-Bred International of Iowa for not following regulations in
their Hawaii plantings to segregate GM corn from other corn. Both settled
with the government in December 2002 without admitting wrongdoing. Dow
paid a fine of $8800 and Pioneer paid $9900.
On May 23, the Center for Food Safety asked the Hawaii Department of
Agriculture for all documents regarding ongoing field tests in Hawaii,
but the department refused. On July 23, Earthjustice filed suit against
the Circuit Court of Hawaii, First Circuit, on behalf of the Center for
Food Safety, to compel the state to provide public access to details
about the field tests.
"The law requires state agencies to grant the public open access to its
records," Moriwake said.
The US Department of Agriculture declined to comment on litigation
affecting state agencies or itself. A spokeswoman for the Hawaii
Department of Agriculture said, "The State Attorney General's Office is
reviewing the lawsuit and it would be inappropriate for the department to
comment at this time."
"We want to make sure the state department of agriculture has a rigorous
review of field trials. This could reveal Hawaii hasn't been real
vigilant, just rubber-stamping trials," Mendelson said.
Dry sharply disagreed. "There is stringent federal and local oversight of
field trials, including those for plant-made pharmaceuticals. It is a
slur against the regulatory agencies to suggest they fail to carry out
their duties," she said.
"These issues are going to become of ever greater concern to national
organizations and people living in Hawaii," Moriwake said. "One of the
big purposes of this suit is to kick-start a larger investigation and
campaign to increase public awareness. First we need to gain access to
Links for this article
T. Toma, "Pharming human antibodies," The Scientist, August 13, 2002.
Center for Food Safety http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org
C.Q. Choi, "Black eye for ag-biotech," The Scientist, November 20, 2002.
Biotechnology Industry Organization http://www.bio.org/
T. Agres, "GM crop controls questioned," The Scientist, April 29, 2003.
C.Q. Choi, "Bio backpedals," The Scientist, December 11, 2002. http://
H. Kamenetsky, "GM crop controls," The Scientist, March 10, 2003. http://
European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
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