1.Mother Nature Is No Lab - Hartford Courant
2.Escaped bentgrass sounds a warning - Minneapolis Star Tribune
3.Biopharming gone awry - Denver Post
COMMENT: Even before the contaminated rice fiasco, federal regulators were getting a pounding for their shortcomings in editorials in America's mainstream media:
EXCERPTS: The judge called USDA's regulatory heedlessness "arbitrary and capricious" and "an unequivocal violation of a clear congressional mandate."
Those findings recall similar conclusions reached by the USDA's own auditors last year.
Unless the USDA can prove capable of doing a far better job of regulating crops, the courts and Congress should consider imposing a moratorium on new permits. Mother Nature shouldn't be used as a laboratory for some uncontrolled genetic experiment. (Hartford Courant - ITEM 1)
...it's a nightmare scenario for Oregon's seed producers. If the resistance gene shows up in their grasses, it could kill exports to the many countries that ban genetically modified plants. If it shows up in noxious grasses, their weed-control problems will multiply... (Minneapolis Star Tribune - ITEM 2)
Given the recent revelations of blunders, we think federal regulators ought to re-evaluate the regulatory process and monitoring safeguards. While tomatoes run amok might be the stuff of Hollywood, the risks from sloppy handling of gene-altered crops is all too real. (Denver Post - ITEM 3)
1.Mother Nature Is No Lab
The Hartford Courant, 20 August 2006 http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/editorials/hc-biopharm.artaug20,0,1759554.story?coll=hc-headlines-editorials
Given the latest criticisms of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's inept handling of genetically modified crops, comparisons to Pandora's box are inevitable.
Pandora, as a version of the Greek legend goes, was the first mortal woman. And what a stunner: Epimetheus (a titan, no less) fell in love with her. Zeus gave her a box as a dowry. Suspecting Zeus was up to something, however, Epimetheus warned her not to open it. But Pandora's curiosity got the better of her. She raised the lid, releasing all misfortunes onto the world including disease, sorrow, poverty, crime, despair and greed.
Genetically modified crops may not fall into the category of "misfortunes." But the USDA's oversight of these crops leaves a lot to be desired. Once these crops are released into the world, there is no going back.
On Aug. 10, a U.S. District Court judge in Hawaii had harsh words for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which grants permits for genetically engineered crops. The judge concluded that the agency allowed such crops to be planted on four islands without first determining whether they posed a threat to the 329 endangered or threatened species that call Hawaii home. The modified crops consisted of corn and sugar cane that were genetically tweaked to produce human hormones, drugs and ingredients for vaccines against AIDS and hepatitis B.
The judge called USDA's regulatory heedlessness "arbitrary and capricious" and "an unequivocal violation of a clear congressional mandate."
Those findings recall similar conclusions reached by the USDA's own auditors last year. After reviewing two years of records, the auditors concluded that the agency's biotechnology regulators overlooked violations of their own rules, failed to inspect sites and did not assure that genetically engineered crops were destroyed after field trials. In some cases, regulators did not even know the locations of trials.
Spokesmen for the USDA say all these mistakes are in the past. They say the agency has made changes that will address long-standing concerns about oversight. Advocates of biotechnology, meanwhile, paint a picture of a better world where there is less disease and where foods are cheaper and more plentiful.
It's a noble vision, of course. But getting there is the tricky part. Genetically modified crops may contaminate ordinary plants, creating such mutants as a tougher, more herbicide-resistant weed. Crops modified for industrial or pharmaceutical uses can also get into the food chain, unleashing strains that put public health and the environment at risk.
Unless the USDA can prove capable of doing a far better job of regulating crops, the courts and Congress should consider imposing a moratorium on new permits. Mother Nature shouldn't be used as a laboratory for some uncontrolled genetic experiment.
2.Editorial: Escaped bentgrass sounds a warning
Minneapolis Star Tribune, 21 August 2006 http://www.startribune.com/561/story/627420.html
BEYOND THE BUFFERS
"It's a cautionary tale of what could happen with other [transgenic] plants that could be of greater concern. I suspect that more examples of this will show up." Jay Reichman, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who led the search for escaped
You don't have to be a grass-seed producer in central Oregon to be alarmed by last week's news that genetically modified bentgrass has escaped its test area and taken root among wild plants miles away.
Once again, companies controlling the transgenic revolution have proved themselves unable to safely sequester their creations while the risks are under study. Those risks remain murky, though certainly real, and even if this first documented escape of engineered plants from a U.S. test plot falls short of catastrophe, rest assured there will be others. Industry practices and lagging government oversight virtually guarantee it.
In some ways, the downwind migration of creeping bentgrass into an area including the Crooked River National Grassland, northeast of Eugene, is more alarming than the earlier case of transgenic canola popping up in Canada. The issue is the same: accidental transfer, especially to wild and weedy plants, of a gene specially inserted to make the engineered variety resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup). But unlike canola, which has few wild cousins to pollinate and must be replanted each year, bentgrass is a perennial with at least a dozen close relatives susceptible to cross-pollination.
While the goal in both cases was also the same -- lowering herbicide use -- it's not irrelevant to consider that canola contributes lots of vegetable oil to the world's food supply, while the high-tech bentgrass was destined for golf courses (and perhaps, down the road, some lawns in affluent suburbs).
Because old-fangled grass seed is a $370-million-a-year industry in Oregon, officials of Scotts Miracle-Gro and Monsanto offered safety guarantees against seed or pollen escaping from their experimental bentgrass plantings, including a wide buffer zone around the test plots. But by the time the test crop's seed was harvested two years ago and the modified plants destroyed, scientists had found its pollen well beyond the buffer.
Now bentgrass sampling in wild fields has turned up nine plants with the gene that provides Roundup resistance, as far as three miles outside the zone. It's unclear how many of these grew from escaped seed or are essentially wild plants that picked up the resistance gene from drifting pollen.
Either way, it's a nightmare scenario for Oregon's seed producers. If the resistance gene shows up in their grasses, it could kill exports to the many countries that ban genetically modified plants. If it shows up in noxious grasses, their weed-control problems will multiply -- while the usefulness of glyphosate, rather earth-friendly as herbicides go, will correspondingly contract.
Scotts and Monsanto are pressing for federal approval to bring their talented new bentgrass to market. But you've no need to worry that its Roundup resistance will drift into your manicured grass, or your neighbor's weedy yard, or that vacant lot down the street. The Scotts people say the golf courses will surely keep the bentgrass stuff cut so short it won't have a chance to produce pollen or go to seed. Rest assured.
3.Biopharming gone awry
Editorial, The Denver Post, 21 August 2006 http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_4215493
It's not exactly the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, but the genetically engineered grass that recently escaped from an Oregon test plot has the potential to wreak serious environmental havoc.
The creeping bentgrass, genetically modified to be resistant to common herbicides such as Roundup, was found to have crossed with wild grasses, the first known transgenic crop escape in the U.S.
Grass farmers and environmentalists fear the creation of a superweed that would contaminate grass seed production, a $373.5 million industry in Oregon.
The revelation underscores the caution that is necessary - and apparently wasn't exercised - in handling genetically engineered crops.
A federal judge recently came to a similar conclusion in a case out of Hawaii. The judge ruled that U.S. Department of Agriculture officials displayed "utter disregard" for Hawaii's many endangered plant species by not investigating potential impacts on them before issuing permits for cultivation of genetically modified crops.
In a scathing 52-page order, U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright took the agency to task, saying the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service violated the law by granting permits for modified corn and sugar cane plants. Companies modified their genetic structure so that when harvested, the plants would contain hormones or proteins that could be used to treat human illnesses.
Seabright this week will be considering remedies, and the plaintiffs are asking the judge to prohibit the issuance of biopharming permits for open air crops anywhere in the country until agency reviews its permitting process.
It is a prudent course of action. While Oregon and Hawaii are far from Colorado, biopharming interests have eyed our state before. Two years ago, we urged extreme caution as the federal government planned to move ahead with permits allowing "pharmaceutical" corn to be cultivated in Colorado.
Luckily, it would seem, no commercial biopharm crops were actually planted here. An Iowa State University researcher sowed a tiny plot of seed corn, but that was a far cry from original plans.
Given the recent revelations of blunders, we think federal regulators ought to re-evaluate the regulatory process and monitoring safeguards. While tomatoes run amok might be the stuff of Hollywood, the risks from sloppy handling of gene-altered crops is all too real.