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Environment

Hawaii court nixes biopharming permits

August 21, 2006 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 84, ISSUE 34

A federal judge in Honolulu has ruled that USDA acted illegally when it allowed four seed companies to grow crops that are genetically modified to produce vaccines, hormones, and other drugs without considering the impact on endangered species and the environment. The four USDA-issued permits authorized Monsanto, ProdiGene, Garst Seed Co., and the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center to conduct open-air field tests of drug-producing corn and sugarcane at various sites in Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, and Maui from 2001 to 2003. U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright found that USDA acted in "utter disregard" of the Endangered Species Act and also violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to conduct even preliminary investigations prior to its approval of the plantings. The decision represents the first federal court ruling on biopharming, the controversial practice of genetically altering food crops to produce experimental drugs and industrial enzymes. Seabright ordered the parties to appear in court on Aug. 22 to discuss remedies for the government's procedural violations. Between 1991 and July 2005, more than 90 permits for pharmaceutical and industrial crops were issued in the U.S., according to USDA.

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