GM giant Aventis is to take the UK Government to court. The company wants to prevent the Government from giving information to Friends of the Earth on the environmental and health effects of one of its pesticides. Glufosinate ammonium (GA) is used in GM farm-scale trials.It is one of the two herbicides to be sprayed on those GM crops nearest to commercialisation. Lawyers for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have given the company 14 days within which to seek an injunction preventing disclosure (see attached letter).
Friends of the Earth first requested the information from the former Ministry of Agriculture in February 2000, after it changed the rules on the use of glufosinate ammonium. Previously GA was only allowed to be sprayed on crops during the summer, because of fears over the environmental and health impact of using the pesticide during the winter months. Possible effects include leaching into groundwater. Following a request by Aventis, the Government allowed GA to be sprayed on GM crops during the winter.
FOE asked to see the information that Aventis supplied to back up its requests. Initially the Government stalled. In January this year it refused to disclose the information. However,following the threat of legal action from FOE the Government backed down. Aventis had claimed 'commercial confidentiality' to block disclosure.
Peter Roderick, Friends of the Earth's Legal Adviser, said:'This shows the lengths that the biotech industry will go to keep its activities from public scrutiny. If Aventis has got scientific evidence on the safety of this pesticide why won't they let us see it?'
Full marks to the Government for finally agreeing to disclose most of the information. It must now stand firm in defending Aventis' challenge. It is difficult to see how commercial confidentiality can trump the public's right to know about the possible environmental and health impacts of spraying pesticides on GM crops.