USDA Faulted On Oversight Of Test Crops

Associated Press
Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A federal judge in Washington has ordered the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct more detailed reviews of applications to plant experimental plots of genetically engineered crops.

In a ruling made public yesterday, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. said the department should have more thoroughly reviewed an application by the Scotts Co. to plant more than 400 acres of grass in Oregon. The grass was genetically engineered to withstand a popular weedkiller.

Researchers and companies that want to grow genetically engineered plants not yet approved for commercial release must first receive approval from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, a USDA agency. The USDA received about 1,000 applications last year, most of which were approved quickly and with no formal environmental impact reviews.

Kennedy ruled that the agency must give more scrutiny to applications to determine whether detailed environmental assessments are needed.

In 2003, the International Center for Technology Assessment in Washington filed a federal lawsuit seeking to halt development of genetically engineered bent grass. A year later, a scientific study found that pollen from genetically engineered grass floated more than 12 miles from experimental plots in Madras, Ore., and mixed with conventional plants.

A USDA spokeswoman said the department was reviewing the ruling and had no immediate comment on whether it would appeal. A spokesman for Marysville, Ohio-based Scotts did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

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