Agency has violated the Freedom of Information Act dozens of times, showing pattern of unlawfully withholding information for over thirteen years
August 25th, 2015--Center for Food Safety (CFS) today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), alleging that APHIS has violated FOIA by routinely failing to respond to requests for records related to genetically engineered (GE) crops, unlawfully delaying its responses, and withholding public disclosure of information. APHIS has failed to provide a timely final response to at least 29 of CFS’s FOIA requests or appeals. Of these, APHIS has entirely failed to provide a final response to 10 requests and 2 appeals. The lawsuit asks the court to direct APHIS to promptly provide CFS with the requested information and to order APHIS to stop its practice of failing to respond to FOIA requests related to GE crops.
“APHIS has a track record of irresponsible and inadequate regulation of GE crops. In the absence of thorough government oversight, public access to information about these crops becomes all the more critical,” said Cristina Stella, staff attorney for Center for Food Safety. “This lawsuit is necessary to stop APHIS from continuing to ignore its duty to provide the public with information that affects farmers, communities, and the environment.”
GE crops are known to cause agronomic and environmental harms, such as transgenic contamination of traditional and organic crops. The vast majority of GE crops are engineered to be resistant to pesticides, and as a consequence, their introduction has dramatically increased the total pesticide use in U.S. agriculture. APHIS still oversees GE crops under regulations drafted in the 1990s, and in March of this year suddenly abandoned its plans to update its GE crop regulations, which the agency had proposed to do since 2004. Under the current regulations, experimental field trials of GE crops have repeatedly been found to escape containment, and APHIS has refused to monitor or regulate GE crops once they are commercialized.
APHIS’s inadequate oversight has been repeatedly harshly criticized and found inadequate by government reports and courts. These shortcomings could have been resolved through new GE crop regulations. The agency has failed to respond to FOIA requests related to its decision to withdraw the proposed regulations, which is detailed in the lawsuit.
“The longer APHIS fails to use its full authority to regulate the environmental and agricultural harms from GE crops, such as transgenic contamination of nearby crops, pesticide drift, and endangerment of protected species, the more these harms will occur,” said Stella. “CFS has been seeking information about these harms for over ten years—and for over ten years, APHIS has continually ignored our requests. It cannot continue to do so.”
The following examples of APHIS’s failure to comply with FOIA illustrate the potential for damage:
This is the fourth time CFS has had to sue APHIS to compel compliance with FOIA, and is the most extensive challenge to APHIS’s pattern of unreasonable delays to date.