Scientists for a GM Free Europe - ISIS/Green Network/TWN International Briefing at the European Parliament, Brussels 12th June 2007
USDA's environmental assessment uses confidential business information liberally and frivolously and violates its own regulation if not federal law. Prof. Joe Cummins and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
USDA/APHIS has prepared an environmental assessment  i n response to a permit application (APHIS Number 06-325-111r) from ArborGen LLC (ArborGen) to “continue” a field test of genetically engineered (transgenic) Eucalyptus trees during which the trees may flower. These plants are clones codenamed EH1 derived from a hybrid of Eucalyptus grandis X Eucalyptus urophylla, and have been genetically engineered with three different constructs. The primary purpose of the test is to examine the efficacy two of the constructs intended to confer cold tolerance, and a gene designed to reduce flower development.
There are serious irregularities with the USDA/APHIS environmental risk assessment .
First, the genes in all three constructs are claimed as confidential business information (CBI). In addition, the selectable marker gene that accompanies the constructs is also claimed as CBI.
Second, according to APHIS, the field test was originally planted under APHIS Notification (05-256-03r) , but that permit was for a different organism - Eucalyptus grandis - not the hybrid in the current application 06-325-111r.
Third, ArborGen was charged with non-compliance on 17 July 2006 for failing to maintain the identity of trees in their test plots and the infraction was resolved by the removal of the offending trees from the test location .
Because APHIS has allowed the transgenes to be designated CBI, the environmental assessment can have no credence because there is no way that an independent investigator can judge the assurances given in the APHIS report. The report stated : “The gene used as a selectable marker is claimed as CBI. In a number of instances, plants transformed with this gene have been deregulated by APHIS. Consequently, APHIS has determined the presence of this gene will have no significant environmental impacts.” If the marker is a deregulated item, allowing it to be designated CBI seems both frivolous and irregular.
The fact that USDA/APHIS is now giving approval for a previous charge of non-compliance is a clear violation of its own regulation, if not federal law.
The environmental assessment claims that the GM hybrids did not contain genes for toxins. However, a patent application by ArborGen for regulationof reproduction in Angiosperms and Gymnosperm plants does employ the potent cell toxin barnase for cell ablation . The well known toxicity of barnase to mammals as used in cell ablation to control flowering has been discussed [5, 6] ( Terminator Trees , SiS 26; Chronicle of An Ecological Disaster Foretold , SiS 18). The use of that toxin gene may have been covered up by the CBI designation. ArborGen has a number of patent for modification of gene expression [7-12], all of which pose a significant threat to the environment which has not previously been subject to regulatory scrutiny. but CBI designation provided by APHIS will prevent independent scrutiny and assessment. The various known complication resulting from the use of transgenes similar to those available for use by ArborGen were recently reviewed [13, 14] ( View from MADS House , SiS 26); GM Food Nightmare Unfolding in the Regulatory Sham , I-SIS scientific publication).
Federal Courts in the US have ruled against the Department of Agriculture (USDA) in three successive cases for failing to carry out proper environment impact assessment, making the original approvals of GM crops illegal. In all three cases, USDA was found to have flouted the law and disregarded health and environmental concerns in their approvals of the GM crops . As we pointed out, the failure to identify the locations and the exact nature of GM crops being tested must also be addressed along with the frivolous use of Confidential Business Information designations to conceal crucial information for safety evaluation and the persistent regulatory bias towards the uncritical acceptance of GM crops.
The current application for GM eucalyptus trees must be rejected. Furthermore, a ban on further spread of GM forest trees should be imposed .
Article first published 31/05/07
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