Federal court orders for the first time a halt to new field trials of genetically engineered crops – far-reaching decision requires more rigorous environmental review for future trials – past trials on genetically engineered creeping bentgrass ruled illegal
Washington, DC – In a decision broadly affecting field trials of genetically engineered crops a federal district judge ruled yesterday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) must halt approval of all new field trials until more rigorous environmental reviews are conducted. Citing potential threats to the environment, Judge Harold Kennedy found in favor of the Center for Food Safety that USDA’s past approvals of field trials of herbicide tolerant, genetically engineered bentgrass were illegal.
“This is a significant victory. The decision requires far more thorough oversight of the environmental impact of these crops, ” stated Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety.
“The Court was clearly concerned that the agency has put our nation’s environment at risk by exempting many of these field trials from environmental review. That’s why the judge made the decision broadly apply to all future field trials of genetically engineered crops.” Mendelson continued.
The federal lawsuit was filed by the Center for Food Safety, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and other individuals and organizations in 2003. At issue in the lawsuit are novel varieties of creeping bentgrass and Kentucky bluegrass manufactured by Scotts and Monsanto that have been genetically engineered to resist Roundup, Monsanto’s popular herbicide.
Currently, use of the Roundup weedkiller is limited to spot spraying of weeds in that the herbicide kills any grass with which it comes in contact. The new engineered grass has been altered to be resistant to the weedkiller so that users will be able to spray entire lawns, fields and golf courses with large amounts of the chemical without fear of hurting the grass. Large scale planting of the biotech grass would therefore significantly increase the amounts of herbicide used in home lawns, sports fields, schools and golf courses around the country.
In seminal studies concerning environmental contamination from genetically engineered creeping bentgrass, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found multiple instances of the pollen from engineered bentgrass traveling several miles and transferring its traits to native grasses. Last year, EPA researchers found that the engineered grasses had escaped from field trials to contaminate a national grassland.
“These field trials threaten our public land, our communities and our health,” said Lesley Adams, Outreach Coordinator for plaintiff Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.
“We will monitor the USDA very closely to make sure they don’t allow any more of these tests until they’ve rigorously assessed their environmental impact,” Adams concluded.
Contact: Joseph Mendelson (202) 547-9359
Read the court decision on field trials