Organic Consumers Association


Contacts: Ronnie Cummins (218) 353-7454 Joe Mendelson, CFS (202) 547-9359

Coalition to Sue U.S. Department of Agriculture over Biotech Crops Containing Pharmaceuticals

U.S. Department of Agriculture not assessing environmental risks of genetically engineered crops containing pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals

Washington D.C. - Today, a coalition of consumer, environmental and farm organizations took legal action against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to halt the planting of biopharm crops - crops genetically engineered to contain pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals. The coalition filed a letter notifying the USDA of their intention to file suit in federal court within sixty 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 our nation's farms without the required impact analysis USDA is risking permanent contamination of the environment and our food supply with numerous drugs and chemicals." The legal 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, and the United States Public Interest Research Group.

The legal action was taken in the wake of recent revelations about biocontamination of food crops in Iowa and Nebraska by corn genetically engineered with an unknown pharmaceutical or industrial chemical. On November 17, 2002, USDA announced that there were two biocontamination incidents in which genetically engineered corn developed by Prodigene, Inc. polluted conventional soybeans and neighboring corn fields.

USDA is currently developing new biopharm regulations expected to be released sometime in the next few weeks. Numerous organizations have been critical of the USDA's current biopharm regulations and the groups taking legal action fear the new USDA guidelines or regulations will be wholly inadequate. Biotechnology companies have conducted over 300 field trials across the country since 1991. The organizations taking action today fear that contamination of the US corn supply with genetically engineered pharmaceuticals may have already occurred.

On December 16, 2002, several organizations filed a 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.

The legal petition called on USDA to:

1) Stop granting permits for open-air cultivation of all crops genetically engineered with biopharmaceuticals (such as vaccines), industrial chemicals, or other substances with potential human health impacts.

2) Allow, at most, the genetic engineering of chemicals or biopharmaceuticals into those non-food crops that do not pose the risk of food contamination.

3) Require non-food crops engineered with chemicals or biopharmaceuticals to be cultivated indoors and establish a tracking system governing the handling and disposal of byproducts to prevent environmental contamination.

4) Explore contained alternatives to open-air biopharming for production of biopharmaceuticals. "Any USDA policy that continues to allow open-air field trials of biopharm crops is endangering the U.S. food supply with contamination," said Larry Bohlen, Director, Health and Environment Programs for Friends of the Earth.

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