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Greenpeace, Center for Food Safety and organic farmers sue EPA over gene-altered crops

February 19, 1999

Environmentalists, farmers and consumers filed a lawsuit today to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to resolve an issue they say the agency has stalled on for more than a year, risking environmental damage and the loss of the world’s most important biological pesticide.

Today’s lawsuit was filed by the Center for Food Safety on behalf of itself, Greenpeace, the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM, with 650 member organizations representing farmers, processors, and certifiers in 100 countries), and over seventy other U.S. organic farmers, farming organizations and environmental groups. The groups charge that EPA violated the law and agency regulations in approving genetically altered “Bt plants,” crops which contain genes for the production of an insecticide called bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). The lawsuit follows a petition to the agency filed by the groups in late 1997. EPA has failed to respond to this petition despite increasing evidence of the environmental risks of Bt crops.

“Genetically engineered crops are a threat to farmers, consumers, and the environment,” said Charles Margulis, a Greenpeace Genetic Engineering specialist. “The evidence overwhelmingly backs our concerns, yet the agency refuses to act. The threat to farmers and the environment is imminent and requires immediate action.”

Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety and the lead counsel on the case stated, “EPA has shown a blatant disregard for federal law and its own regulations by approving Bt crops without fully assessing their environmental safety. Their continuing failure to regulate this untested technology forces us to turn to the courts for protection.”

The Center for Food Safety is a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the impacts our food production system on human health, animal welfare and the environment.

Today’s lawsuit demands that the court direct EPA to:

  1. cancel the registration of all genetically engineered Bt plants;
  2. cease the approval process for any new registrations; and
  3. immediately perform a programmatic environmental impact assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act (analyzing the cumulative impacts of all Bt plant registrations).

Also joining the lawsuit today were organic farmers from twenty-one states, who are concerned that the widespread cultivation of Bt plants will inevitably lead to the rapid development of insect resistance to the Bt toxin. Organic farmers are permitted the use of Bt spray insecticides as their only emergency pest control option, but insect resistance caused by genetically engineered Bt plants would make Bt sprays ineffective. The future viability of organic farming is thus threatened by the agency’s approval of Bt crops.

“Organic farmers have used Bt responsibly for nearly forty years,” said Jim Gerritsen, a plaintiff and potato grower from Maine, “But genetically engineered Bt crops will lead to insect resistance in just a few years. My ability to provide consumers with quality, organic produce should not be compromised for the short-term benefit of the biotech industry.”

Also joining the suit today is a Wisconsin organic food producer who recently found their organic tortilla chips had been contaminated with genetically engineered corn, resulting in product recalls costing the company over $100,000. Terra Prima, Inc., suffered huge losses when its Apache Brands organic corn chips tested positive for genetically engineered corn. An organic farmer the company has long relied on supplied the corn.

According to company official Charles Walker, Terra Prima was forced to pull product from stores in seven European countries when the contamination was discovered. “Our customers demand organic food because they want to know that the food they eat is free from untested genetic manipulation. We feel that this is their right, yet genetically engineered crops in the environment threaten our ability to provide them with pure food.”

Greenpeace is the leading independent organization that uses peaceful and creative activism to protect the global environment

To view the complaint, click HERE.