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GROUPS SUE EPA OVER
GENETICALLY ENGINEERED CROPS

Greenpeace together with the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM, with 650 member organisations representing organic farmers, processors, and retailers in over 100 countries) and 22 US farmers filed a lawsuit today to force the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw all approvals for genetically engineered crops containing the gene of a bacterium called Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt). Inserting the Bt gene into plants makes them toxic to certain insects. Bt crops accounted for about one third of the worldwide acreage of genetically engineered crops planted in 1998.

The groups charge that EPA violated the law and agency regulations in approving Bt-crops (maize, cotton, potato) and demand that the court directs EPA to cancel the registration of all genetically engineered Bt plants and cease the approval process for any new registrations. "Genetically engineered crops are a threat to farmers, consumers, and the environment," said Kalee Kreider of Greenpeace USA. "The evidence overwhelmingly backs our concerns. The threat to farmers and the environment is imminent and requires immediate action." According to Greenpeace the widespread use of Bt-crops will inevitably breed insect pests resistant to the Bacillus Thuringiensis toxins. Natural Bt is used as a foliar spray and considered one of the most important environmentally benign biological insecticides. By creating insect resistance the genetically engineered crops would render these pesticides ineffective within a few years time.

Producers of Bt-crops, Monsanto, Novartis, Asgrow, DeKalb and Pioneer have admitted that resistance is likely to occur and only recently presented a voluntary resistance management concept for Bt-corn after intensive scientific debate about the issue. The US EPA had made such management plans a condition for the initial approval of the GMOs, which will expire in the year 2002. "Every knowledgeable scientist agrees that this management strategy will not prevent but at best delay resistance building, " commented Kreider, "Industry wants to buy just enough time to ensure their investments return before the damage occurs. This is the conventional industry strategy: slash and burn, deny the problems and then have others pick the costs of destruction. Yet with genetically engineered pesticides, which are living organisms, the damage will probably never go away again, but self-replicate in nature."

Joe Mendelson, Legal Director of the Centre for Food Safety and the lead counsel on the case stated, "EPA showed a blatant disregard for federal law and their own regulations when they registered Bt crops without assessing their safety. Their continuing failure to regulate this untested technology forces us to turn to the courts for protection."

"Organic farmers have used Bt responsibly for nearly forty years," said Jim Gerritsen, a potato grower from Maine, "But transgenic Bt crops will lead to insect resistance in just a few years. My ability to provide consumers with quality, organic produce should not be compromised for the short-term benefit of the biotech industry. The future viability of organic farming is threatened by the approval of Bt crops." Gerritsen is one of 22 organic farmers, who are co-plaintiffs on the suit.

Also joining the suit today is a Wisconsin organic food producer who recently found their organic tortilla chips had been contaminated with genetically engineered corn, resulting in product recalls costing the company over $100,000. The contamination presumably occurred from genetic pollution of organic corn from neighbouring Bt-fields. Terra Prima's official Charles Walker stated "Our customers demand organic food because they want to know that the food they eat is free from untested genetic manipulation. We feel that this is their right, yet genetically engineered crops in the environment threaten our ability to provide them with pure food."

Greenpeace International warned, that in addition to the problems of resistance building Bt-plants have a high potential to genetically pollute the environment by outbreeding to related wild species. "For instance the United States is exporting over 4 million tons of maize, mixed with the new GMOs, to Mexico, which is the Centre of Origin of maize," said Greenpeace International's GE coordinator Benedikt Haerlin, "This threatens the world heritage of genetic diversity of maize, which will be desperately needed for future breeding." The United States together with transnational genetic engineering companies are the most vociferous opponents to precautionary international Biosafety Rules under the Convention of Biodiversity, which are presently negotiated by 175 States in Cartagena, Columbia.

- contacts of participating farmers are available upon request

Written by: Greenpeace


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