26 March 2003
GOVERNMENT COMPANY SOLD GM POTATOES TO UNSUSPECTING BUYERS/US SUBSIDISES GM CLEAN-UP
'The U.S. Agriculture Department's settlement with a Texas company that mishandled gene-altered corn, portrayed three months ago as a stringent crackdown designed to send a message to other potential violators, actually involved a no-interest $3.5 million government loan that means American taxpayers will effectively subsidize cleanup efforts.' (item 2)
*SPUDCO ACCUSED OF HIDING SALE OF GM POTATOES
*U.S. WILL SUBSIDIZE CLEANUP OF ALTERED CORN
SPUDCO ACCUSED OF HIDING SALE OF GM POTATOES
March 26, 2003
The Leader-Post (Regina)
Jason Warick, Senior Reporter
SASKATOON -- Several hundred thousand pounds of genetically-modified (GM) Bt-potatoes were, according to this story, sold to unsuspecting buyers as "regular potatoes" in 1999 by the government potato company known as Spudco, according to various officials involved.
A former Spudco employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was quoted as saying, "Yeah, it did occur. They were loaded up. They were shipped. They had potatoes they needed to get rid of."
The former employee, who was involved in the loading of the Spudco potatoes, was further cited as saying the companies who bought them had no idea the product was genetically-altered, adding, "None of them knew. You can't tell. There's no stamp on them saying 'GMO', so the potatoes were just sold as regular potatoes."
The former employee said they were told by Spudco senior managers, "Don't say on the bill it's GM potatoes."
Outlook, Sask. farmer Tom Dolman, one of the farmers who grew the GM potatoes under a crop sharing arrangement with Spudco during the 1998 crop year, was quoted as saying, "I grew a lot of those (GM) potatoes for them that year (330 acres). It's called stonewalling. The government, they didn't tell everything to everybody."
Dolman was further cited as saying he hasn't been fully compensated for those and other potatoes he grew for Spudco, and claims he was forced into bankruptcy because of it. He now farms in the Outlook area with his father.
In the spring of 1999, Spudco needed to bag and sell the GM potatoes. Mark Langefeld, a former official with the privately-owned Lake Diefenbaker Potato Corporation (LDPC), was cited as saying Spudco officials approached him about bagging the GM potatoes at the LDPC factory, and he responded that he didn't want anything to do with the GM potatoes because no buyers wanted them at the time.
He claims the Spudco officials then asked if he would "blend" the GM variety with other potatoes and bag them. Again, he refused.
Just months later, in May of 1999, LDPC went bankrupt. Langefeld said Spudco got access to the factory and bagged the GM potatoes themselves, adding "I personally watched them unload those (GM) potatoes and send them over to package. Then I saw them being packed. I saw them go into the truck and off to the wholesalers."
U.S. WILL SUBSIDIZE CLEANUP OF ALTERED CORN
March 26, 2003
The U.S. Agriculture Department's settlement with a Texas company that mishandled gene-altered corn, portrayed three months ago as a stringent crackdown designed to send a message to other potential violators, actually, according to this story, involved a no-interest $3.5 million government loan that means American taxpayers will effectively subsidize cleanup efforts.
The story says that the payment terms, worth as much as $500,000 in interest and other savings to the company over the next three years, are contained in a document newly uncovered in government files by the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The story says that the Agriculture Department did not release the information at the time it announced the settlement with ProdiGene Inc. of College Station, Tex.
Alisa Harrison, spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department, was cited as saying there was no intent to deceive the public, adding, "It wasn't that we made a conscious decision not to release it. It didn't occur to us."
But Gregory Jaffe, director of biotechnology issues at CSPI, was cited as saying he thought the government misled the public, adding, "I think there was a conscious decision to create an illusion that this was a more severe penalty than it really is. This situation strongly suggests to me that the government is going to say one thing in public and do something different to help this industry as best it can behind closed doors."
The story explains that when it outlined the settlement last fall, the government said it was fining ProdiGene $250,000 and requiring it to reimburse the cost of destroying a warehouse full of potentially adulterated soybeans in Aurora, Neb.
Buying, transporting and burning the beans ultimately cost $3.5 million. Under the arrangement Jaffe discovered recently, the government paid for the cleanup. The company is not required to begin making payments for a year, and it will have two years to pay the money in quarterly installments, owing the government no interest on either the fine or the cleanup -- totaling $3.75 million.
Harrison was further cited as saying that the Agriculture Department had little choice but to accept extended payment terms, adding that the government "took a look at their financial situation, and it was very clear that the company could not pay the fine immediately. If the company had gonebankrupt, we wouldn't have gotten anything. We would have had to foot the entire bill."