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CFS Files Legal Petition Seeking a Criminal Investigation Into Monsanto & Aventis Sale of Contaminated Genetically Engineered Canola Seed

April 15, 2002

Today, Monday, April 15, 2002, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a legal petition with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) seeking a criminal investigation of two biotechnology companies, Monsanto and Aventis. The petition is filed on behalf of CFS and the Genetically Engineered Food Alert (GEFA) coalition. It describes newly discovered evidence that genetically engineered canola seed not approved in the United States may have illegally entered into the commercial US seed supply, potentially contaminating canola seed already sold to farmers.

In the past months, two of the country’s largest agribusiness corporations, Monsanto and Aventis, have applied for commercial approval of three varieties of canola, GT200 (Monsanto), Topas 19/2 (Aventis) and RF1 (Aventis). None of these three canola varieties is currently approved for commercial sale in the United States. The USDA, the federal agency with control over planting and seed sale permission, has not yet approved these canola varieties over concerns that crops can be plant pests. Yet the companies admit that the new varieties may have contaminated U.S. seed supplies, and are now applying for approval in an attempt to avoid a massive food and seed recall.

The Center for Food Safety discovered this new evidence of GE seed contamination through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.The FOIA documents and USDA environmental assessments clearly show that both companies were aware of the contamination with the illegal seeds and sought USDA approval in an attempt to avoid liability. Included in the materials that the Center for Food Safety requested was a letter from Monsanto from last November to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in which the company admits to potential contamination.“Although glyphosate-tolerant canola event GT200 is not intended to be commercialized . . .[it] has the potential to be present in low, adventitious levels in commercial canola varieties.” (Letter to USDA from Monsanto, November 9, 2001)

“This is genetic pollution of our food supply,” explained Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director for the Center for Food Safety. “And now Monsanto and Aventis are asking the USDA for a cover-up. We are demanding a full criminal investigation of two the companies, and an inquiry into USDA’s actions in not making this matter public.”

Monsanto was faced with a similar seed contamination situation in 1997. At that time, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (“CFIA”) suspended the sale of a Monsanto genetically engineered Roundup Ready canola due to the fact that it was contaminated with an unapproved variety event GT200. The suspension led to a subsequent recall of 60,000 bags of contaminated canola seed (enough to plant 600,000 acres) and forced the Canadian government to broker deals with farmers to plow under fields already planted with the contaminated seed.According to Monsanto, the problem may have occurred because the company allowed the seeds to get mixed up and bred together.

“Once again we are faced with a regulatory breakdown with regards to genetically engineered foods; a case in which government oversight has been lax and laws has been broken,” said Matt Rand, Biotechnology Campaign Manager for the National Environmental Trust.

To view the petition, click HERE.