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Chile's Organic Farmers Win Legal Battle on Frankencrops

Chile's Organic Farmers Win Legal
Battle on Frankencrops

ORGANIC ACTIVISTS WIN FREEDOM OF INFORMATION CASE
Agency Must Disclose Location And Owners Of Transgenic Crops

SANTIAGO TIMES (Santiago, Chile)

Organic farmers and public interest attorneys won their
first ever 'freedom of information' case Friday, Jan. 4, when a
Santiago court ordered Chile's Cattle and Agricultural Service
(Servicio Agricola y Ganadero, SAG) to disclose information
concerning the location and ownership of farmlands planted in
transgenic crops.

"This is a landmark decision in Chile, where government
has traditionally hidden behind the long skirts of secrecy and
'national security' to keep the citizenry ignorant about
certain matters," said Miguel Fredes, the attorney for the
plaintiffs and head of the non-profit Southern Environmental
Law Center, based in Puerto Montt.

The lawsuit was filed on July 27, 2001, in Santiago's 26th
District Civil Court after SAG officials repeatedly denied
requests by Maria Isabel Manzur, a zoologist, to reveal
information concerning the location and ownership of transgenic
crops in Chile.

Manzur, who works with "Tierra Viva" Organic Growers
Association of Chile, first wrote SAG Oct. 18, 1999, requesting
information about the location of transgenic crops. She and
Andrea Tuczek Fries, a member of Tierra Viva and also a
plaintiff in the case, explained that the commercial success of
Chile's organic farming community could be jeopardized if
organic growers unwittingly grew their crops adjacent to land
planted in transgenic crops.

SAG responded only with general information about
transgenics. In a letter dated Dec. 13, 2000, the agency
explained that "unfortunately, the location of these
(transgenic) crops - which this organization must constantly
review and monitor for quarantine purposes - is confidential in
nature and is kept in safekeeping because of factors relating
to competition."

Chilean law (SAG Resolution 1.927, of 1993) authorizes the
entry of transgenic seeds to the country for the purpose of
reproduction and export.

An interim voluntary monitoring system created by SAG
permits field trials for genetically modified crops. SAG
argued to the court that disclosure of the location of the
field trials would jeopardize enforcement of environmental
laws, would threaten corporate profits or would result in
damage to intellectual property rights.

Organic growers say they fear there have been breaches in
the voluntary guidelines concerning the containment of GM
material in Chile.

The plaintiffs, in their lawsuit, not only requested exact
information concerning the location and size of areas planted
in transgenic crops, but also data related to SAG's monitoring
of the planted areas. Transgenic vegetal matter believed to be
under production in Chile include tree crops, sunflower seeds,
melons, potatoes, sugar beets, corn and soya.

Plaintiffs also asked the court to have SAG explain the
basis for its 1994 decision to lift its bio-security quarantine
on transgenic corn and soya, and for the minutes of different
SAG working groups charged with overseeing and monitoring
transgenic crops.

In its written response to lawsuit, SAG said complete
secrecy about the location and ownership of the transgenic
crops was necessary in order to protect the interests of the
businesses involved and safeguard SAG's ability to do its work
without hindrance. The agency cited a let sent to it by
Semillas Siminis Sudamerica Ltda. dated Nov. 24, 1994,
concerning the need for absolute confidentiality.

SAG also said no minutes had been kept by its different
transgenic working groups because they were "not deliberative
in nature." It added that it would fully disclose information
about transgenics in Chile only after all experimentation had
ceased and transgenic materials were removed from the country.

Civil Court Judge Humberto Provoste Bachmann, however,
disagreed, ruling that SAG should respond immediately to all
the information requests made by the plaintiffs.

SAG has 10 days to appeal the decision.


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