US judge challenges Monsanto seed approval (14/2/2007)

The US promotes itself throughout the world as a model of GM crop regulation, but the judgements of its own judiciary tell a very different story.

This latest judgement that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) violated the law by failing to adequately assess possible environmental impacts before approving Monsanto's GM alfalfa, follows on from the US federal district judge who earlier this month ruled that the USDA must halt approval of all new field trials until more rigorous environmental reviews are conducted. That ruling resulted from the USDA's illegal approvals of field trials of herbicide tolerant GM bentgrass.

Late last year another federal district judge ruled that the USDA flouted both the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act by not conducting preliminary environmental reviews before permitting the cultivation of drug-producing GM crops throughout Hawaii. US District Judge Michael Seabright also called USDA's regulatory heedlessness "arbitrary and capricious" and "an unequivocal violation of a clear congressional mandate."

Even the USDA's own Office of Inspector General's audit found numerous holes in its regulatory oversight in its December 2005 report. It warned that the USDA lacks "basic information about the field test sites it approves and is responsible for monitoring, including where and how the crops are being grown and what becomes of them at the end of the field test." This was the case even for crops involving the production of potent pharmaceuticals.

The audit also found that the USDA was not even requiring companies to provide site location information. The government did not require companies to document efforts to make sure GMO crops were segregated, and it didn't test neighboring fields to look for contamination during or after field trials. Overall, the regulatory system was found to be so weak that it increased the risk that experimental GMO crops would "persist in the environment."

The GM rice contamination fiasco is certainly testament to that. But, even though its own Inspector General's report declared "Current (USDA) regulations, policies and procedures do not go far enough to ensure the safe introduction of agricultural biotechnology," the USDA has been working flat out with USAID to shape biosafety regulations around the world.

US judge challenges Monsanto seed approval
NYT Reuters, February 14 2006

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Agriculture Department violated the law by failing to adequately assess possible environmental impacts before approving genetically-engineered alfalfa from Monsanto, the New York Times said on Wednesday.

The ruling, given on Tuesday by Judge Charles Breyer of the District Court in San Francisco, said the agency had been "cavalier" in deciding that a full environmental impact statement was not needed because the potential environmental and economic effects of the crop were not significant, the paper said.

The judge asked the plaintiffs, some alfalfa seed companies and environmental and farm advocacy groups, and the defendant, the Agriculture Dept., to meet and propose remedies to him by February 26, the paper said.

Monsanto was not named in the suit, the paper said. No one at the company could immediately be reached for comment.

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