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Court Orders USDA to Disclose Biotech Fields in Hawaii

Citizen groups see development as first step toward public disclosure of biotech test sites.

For the first time the USDA was forced by court order on February 4 to reveal the locations of test sites of biopharmaceutical crops in Hawaii. Citizen groups are calling the ruling "an important first step toward the day when citizens can find out if biopharmaceutical crops are growing near their food crops or their back yards."

Following the ruling, representatives of the USDA handed over to Earthjustice attorneys information on the precise locations of open-air field tests of biopharmaceutical crops genetically engineered to produce industrial chemicals and drugs.

But an agriculture industry attorney disagreed that test plot locations will soon become common knowledge, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin Business reports.

Biotechnology Industry Organization attorney Margery Bronster says the privacy of locations is important to protect plots from being vandalized. The "disclosure the judge ordered was extremely limited, only for this litigation and only to very few people to keep it confidential," the bulletin reports Bronster saying.

In August 2004, District Court Judge David A. Ezra ordered the disclosure, rejecting the government's and the Biotechnology Industry Organization's claims of potential "espionage," "vandalism," and "civil unrest."

Judge Ezra affirmed the ruling in August, but preliminarily limited disclosure to plaintiffs only, and allowed the government and industry 90 days to come up with better support for denying public access to the information. The industry submitted supplemental arguments, to which plaintiffs responded, but the court has not yet ruled on the public disclosure issue. Until then, plaintiffs cannot reveal the information to the public at large.

 

TAGS: USDA
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