Naked City

TexPIRG Says No to GMOs

At East Austin's Boggy Creek Farm Tuesday morning, Texas Public Interest Research Group released a new report, "Raising Risk: Field Testing of Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States." The report includes testing data on 1,494 sites in Texas where crops use genes from humans and animals, as well as pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals. Joining the nationwide chorus of calls for more industry research and oversight, the report recommends that field tests of genetically engineered crops only proceed under a thorough and comprehensive ecological framework designed to assess their full impact, as the crops find their way closer to the domestic food supply.

TexPIRG's Stephanie Carter said her group is calling for a nationwide moratorium on the commercialization of genetically engineered foods, as well as legislation to hold biotech corporations accountable for the possible human and environmental implications of the crops. "PIRG found StarLink corn, which was designed for animal feed and not approved by the USDA for human consumption, on store shelves and in Taco Bell products across the country," Carter said. "This is an example of how easily genetically engineered crops can spread through cross pollination." In Texas, she said, Texas Tech and Texas A&M have applied for permits to test the experimental crops, as have biotech corporations like Monsanto and ProdiGene. (On a related note, Austin-based Whole Foods Market has agreed to label all of its in-house brands that do not contain genetically engineered products; see "Austin Stories" on p.19.)

The report accuses the USDA of serving as a rubber stamp for applications to conduct field tests, rejecting only 3.6% of all applications submitted between 1987 and 2004, thereby allowing 18,608 field releases. The report also showed that the percentage of field tests conducted with genes classified as "Confidential Business Information," and thus hidden from public scrutiny, had increased dramatically from 0% in 1987 to 70% in 2004. "The USDA's inadequate oversight of these field tests poses immediate risks. Non-native organisms can invade and degrade ecosystems. Plants engineered to be virus resistant can cause new viral strains to evolve through recombination or make existing viruses more severe. In essence, our environment is serving as the laboratory for widespread experimentation of genetically engineered organisms with profound risks that can never be recalled once released." For more info, see www.texpirg.org.

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