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Immediate release (21 Jul 2010)

GM In the Dock: US courts step in where safety regulators fail

Today GM Freeze published GM in the Dock, a series of three briefings examining a number of US court cases covering the legality of the authorisation of GM crops, the failure to protect farmers from contamination and the consolidation of corporate control in agricultural markets, as well as exposing how far the industry will go to protect itself against the public interest. [1]

Since GM crops were introduced regulators have been accused, including by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspector General, of failing to protect people, the environment and the economy from the dangers of the technology. [2] These briefings expose a history of regulators’ clear disregard for the proper application of the law and the precautionary principle, which is now being corrected by the courts.

The series includes:

1) “Courts check spread of GM alfalfa and beet” – examines the case that found the USDA breached the law by authorising GM alfalfa without an Environmental Impact Assessment. Years of defensive litigation by Monsanto eventually lead to a Supreme Court ruling that GM gene flow is a serious environmental and economic threat. Similarly a US Federal Court ruled that the USDA violated the National Environmental Policy Act in authorising GM sugar beet. The conclusion of that case, brought by a seed business fearing wind-borne contamination, is on hold to take account of the alfalfa finding by the Supreme Court.

2) “Monsanto and the monopoly investigators” - a look at Monsanto’s part in the US Justice Department’s anti-trust investigation into corporate concentration in agribusiness, including seed markets. This briefing pulls together reports of allegations against the company including onerous contractual obligations, cornering seed markets, restricting scientific research and hiking prices while posting record profits. It also highlights recent political and Supreme Court appointments from the ranks of biotech company ex-employees.

3) “Bayer brought to book for contaminating rice” – examines the mounting findings against Bayer CropScience for its 2006 contamination of US rice supplies with an experimental variety that lead to EU import restrictions until April 2010. At the time of writing damages against Bayer were already counted in the tens of millions, including some US$42 million in punitive damages after a jury found the company negligent. Thousands of farmers still await their day in court with Bayer, and so far not a single juror has found in their favour.

One jury found that Bayer acted “with malice or reckless disregard”. [3]

Eve Mitchell of GM Freeze said:

“The courts have ruled that US regulators have been playing fast and loose with the law in approving GM crops, but hopefully they have checked their spread and prevented potentially grave economic and environmental damage. UK and EU regulators have been quick to rely on US authorisations as a demonstration of safety, including when unauthorised GM crops have been detected in EU or UK imports. We all need to look very carefully at just how much is missing from those assessments.

“Our investigations have also revealed how dangerous GM research can be in the hands of irresponsible companies with vested interests and a regulator who failed to protect farmers. The contamination of US rice stocks cost farmers dear, and it is some small comfort for them to at least have recourse to the law for compensation. The polluter must pay, but it would be far better to enact proper liability legislation rather than leaving individuals to fight their own way through the courts, as it might make the companies concerned more careful from the start.”

Calls to Eve Mitchell  +44 (0)1381 610 740.

Notes

[1] See all three briefings here, including:

Briefing I: Courts check the spread of GM alfalfa and beet 

Briefing II: Monsanto and the monopoly investigators 

Briefing III: Bayer brought to book for contaminating rice 

[2] See www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/50601-08-TE.pdf and US Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General, Audit Report: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Controls Over Issuance of Genetically Engineered Organism Release Permits, (Dec. 2005), available at www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/50601-08-TE.pdf

[3] From the Judge’s Final Charge to the Jury.