Conflict of Interest in Review of GE Creeping Bentgrass

October 26, 2004

IS USDA STACKING THE DECK IN FAVOR OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED BENTGRASS?

Developer of Scotts Herbicide-Tolerant Bentgrass Now on USDA Review Panel.

BACKGROUND: The Center for Food Safety (CFS) and International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA) are engaged in a lawsuit against the USDA for its failure to perform adequate environmental review prior to allowing the field testing of genetically engineered, glyphosate-tolerant creeping bentgrass being developed by Scotts Co. and Monsanto (glyphosate is a powerful herbicide produced by Monsanto). The case is Int'l Ctr for Tech Assm't, et al v. Veneman, Docket No. 03-CV-0020 (D.D.C., filed Jan. 8, 2003). After publication this fall of a study by EPA showing that pollen and other material from a genetically engineered creeping bentgrass test site traveled up to 21 km away from the test site, CFS and CTA filed for an injunction to immediately shutdown all existing field trials.

UPDATE: In response to the motion for an injunction, USDA has sought more time from the court to oppose the CFS/CTA motion. In support of this action, USDA filed an expert affidavit for Dr. Virgil Meier. As the attached document shows, the Meier declaration reveals a serious conflict of interest in the USDA's assessment of the engineered creeping bentgrass. In paragraph 3, Dr. Meier discusses that, prior to coming to work for USDA, he worked for Scotts, the company seeking commercial approval of the engineered bentgrass, where he managed the development of the creeping bentgrass currently under USDA review. In paragraph 4, Dr. Meier acknowledges that he is now part of the USDA team that is assessing whether to approve the Scotts product for commercial use and that he reviewed a number of the field tests challenged in the CFS/CTA lawsuit.

"When the developer of the very product being reviewed for commercialization is involved in that regulatory review, there is more than simply the appearance of a conflict of interest" said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director at CFS. "The Meier declaration clearly calls into question the impartiality of the USDA in reviewing this product. Not only does USDA now have to reconsider how it reviewed all past decisions concerning the field testing of this product, but Dr. Meier must recuse himself from any involvement in the decision-making on this product".

Joseph Mendelson III
Legal Director
International Center for Technology Assessment & the Center for Food Safety
660 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
Suite 302 Washington, DC 20003
(202) 547-9359 (202) 547-9429 fax