URGENT: Comments Needed to Help Stop Genetically Engineered Eucalyptus in SE US

Comments needed regarding USDA/APHIS Federal Docket No. APHIS-2007-0027 on genetically engineered (GE) Eucalyptus Tree Field Trials in Alabama: First US mainland release of flowering GE trees.

DEADLINE: MONDAY, MAY 21, 2007, 5pm Eastern

ArborGen seeks permission for GE Eucalyptus Field Trials of genetically engineered cold tolerant clones and GE Eucalyptus trees with confidential traits in Alabama. Published articles and industry reports indicate these traits likely include insect resistance and reduced lignin.

ArborGen petitioned the US Department of Agriculture (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or APHIS) in 2006 for permission to extend their GE Eucalyptus field trials to allow flowering and seed production in 355 GE Eucalyptus hybrid trees grown on 1.1 acres in Baldwin County, Alabama close to the Gulf Coast of Mexico.

APHIS has conducted an inadequate Environmental Assessment (EA) for public comment in which they recommend approval to extend the GE Eucalyptus field trials by ArborGen to allow this unprecedented flowering and seed formation of a genetically engineered tree species.

Reasons to comment and oppose extending the Alabama GE Eucalyptus tree field trials:

* Approval of this field trial represents precedent setting approval for the first outdoor field trial release on the mainland US of GE Eucalyptus trees that allow flowering and seed formation in young trees. Once this GE tree flowering and seed production is allowed on the US mainland, it will be easier for APHIS to approve outdoor field trial releases of other GE trees for flowering and seed production.

* Because ArborGen will not confirm the genetically engineered traits of these trees, we cannot evaluate the full threats they pose. This makes the submission of full and thorough comments impossible.

* APHIS failed to conduct and prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to comprehensively address all relevant issues related to the proposed GE Eucalyptus field trials.

* Eucalyptus species are introduced organisms into the US and grow well in certain warm climates such as the southern and southeast US regions.

* Escape of GE Eucalyptus hybrids through seeds and vegetative plant material are quite likely due to severe wind and rain events which APHIS failed to assess in the EA. In other countries where eucalyptus have been introduced, they are well known for escaping and colonizing native ecosystems.

* ArborGen's Baldwin County, Alabama field trial site is prone to impacts from severe storm events such as tornadoes and hurricanes that could blow GE eucalyptus seeds over long distances.

* APHIS failed to evaluate these severe storm events in the EA and should have performed an EIS to fully review regional weather phenomena on the field trials location and document high potential for escape of the seeds and vegetative material of GE Eucalyptus hybrids.

* Global warming and climate change will allow more extensive southern and southeast regions of the US to have weather patterns conducive to the introduction and propagation of escaped GE Eucalyptus hybrids, which APHIS failed to consider in the EA.

* In regions where droughts occur, eucalyptus are known to be at high risk of catching fire. The Southeast US is currently in the midst of such a drought. Additionally, eucalyptus plantations have been documented to deplete ground water and cause or exacerbate drought situations. None of these potential impacts were evaluated in the EA.

* With recent federal court decisions on genetically engineered perennial organisms like the GE bentgrass and GE alfalfa, for example, there is a growing legal foundation around the potential escape of perennial GE organisms even in field trials.

DATES: May 21, 2007 at 5:00 pm EST.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments to APHIS by either of the following methods:

1) Go to www.regulations.gov , select "Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service'' from "Agency" drop-down menu, and then click "Submit.'' In the "Keyword or Docket ID" column, select "APHIS-2007-0027" or "Eucalyptus" to submit "Comments" and to view supporting and related materials available electronically. Click on "Comments" in far right column to submit comments.

2) Postal Mail/Commercial Delivery: Please send four copies of your comment (an original and three copies) to Docket No. APHIS-2007-0027, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. Please state that your comment refers to Docket No. APHIS-2007-0027.


click here to sign onto the petition to APHIS and the USDA.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 17, 2007

Contacts: Dan Nagengast, Kansas Rural Center, 785-748-0959
Bill Freese, Center for Food Safety, 202-547-9359 x14
Bill Wenzel, Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering, 608-444-0292

USDA Approval of Drug-Producing Rice in Kansas Poses Threat to Food Safety, SayFood Safety & Farming Groups Tornadoes, Floods Could Contaminate Foods With Drugs Not Approved By FDA

20,000 Citizens, Scientists, Farming and Rice Organizations In Opposition

WASHINGTON " The Center for Food Safety, Kansas Rural Center and Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering object to USDA's May 16th approval of
drug-producing rice cultivation in Kansas, charging that it poses needless risks
to the safety of the American food supply. USDA's approval permits cultivation in
the Junction City area of up to 3,200 acres of rice genetically engineered to
produce pharmaceutical compounds that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
has refused to approve. FDA approval is not required for planting to proceed.

The groups note that the decision comes just a week after tornadoes in the Kansas
River Valley and heavy rains caused severe flooding in east-central Kansas,
including floodwaters on the Smoky Hill River, which passes just a mile from one
of the proposed planting sites. USDA had earlier dismissed concerns raised by the
groups that floodwaters could carry the pharmaceutical rice into surrounding
cropland and contaminate farmers' crops with drugs unapproved by the FDA. USDA
concluded in its environmental assessment that: "Extreme weather events are rare
and unlikely to occur in the area of the field trial".

"About two weeks ago, I was huddled with other travelers in a rest stop on
Interstate 70 as tornadoes were reported on the ground in the very area where
Ventria proposes to expand their production between Junction City and Topeka"
said Dan Nagengast, Executive Director of the Kansas Rural Center.

"I also question whether the company has adequately engineered their water control
systems to deal with the amounts of torrential rainfall that are quite common
here. This just represents an unconscionable food safety complication in a
food-producing region. Why grow these crops in wide open nature, when other
companies have found it possible to use genetic engineering techniques to produce
biotech drugs in confined settings where food contamination is not an issue?".

USDA approved the "pharma rice". plantings despite receiving 20,000 comments in
opposition from citizens, scientists, farming and rice groups. Groups opposing
the scheme include the USA Rice Federation, U.S. Rice Producers Association,
Riceland Foods, Mississippi Rice Council, Arkansas Rice Growers Association,
Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council, and Rice Producers of
California. In addition, fourteen independent scientists signed a joint
scientific assessment warning of potential adverse health impacts from even
trace-level exposure to one of the rice-produced drugs.

"These rice-grown drugs are unapproved by FDA, may be hazardous, and whether
hazardous or not could cause huge economic losses to Kansas farmers whose wheat,
soy or other crops become contaminated with drug rice" said Bill Freese, Science
Policy Analyst with Center for Food Safety.

"In 2002, corn containing an experimental swine vaccine got mixed into soybeans
and regular corn, which then had to be destroyed at a cost of several millions
dollars" said Nagengast. "Over the past year, rice farmers have lost millions
of dollars from contamination of their crop with unapproved genetically engineered
rice grown under USDA's watch" he added.

"The USDA needs to stop rubber-stamping schemes like drug-producing crops that put
farmers and the rural economies they support at great risk" said Bill Wenzel,
National Director of the Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering. "The
USDA should be focused on representing farmers rather than carrying water for the
biotech industry" he added.

Developed by California-based Ventria Bioscience, the rice is engineered with
modified human genes to serve as a "biofactory". for production of synthetic human
milk proteins that have antimicrobial and other drug-like properties. Ventria has
proposed using the rice-extracted protein drugs to treat infants with diarrhea,
and as additives in infant formulas, yogurt, granola bars and sports drinks, among
other uses.

Last month, the Center for Food Safety released a report detailing the potential
human health impacts of Ventria's pharmaceutical rice and the FDA's refusal to
approve Ventria's rice-grown drugs. The report, "A Grain of Caution" also
disputes the need for Ventria's pharmaceutical rice, discussing cheap and
effective solutions for prevention and treatment of diarrhea recommended by the
World Health Organization and other public health experts. The report notes that
these existing solutions have cut deaths due to diarrhea from 4.6 million a year
in 1980 to 2 million today, and could save many more lives if adequate funding
were provided.

Center for Food Safety's "A Grain of Caution". is available at:
http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/pubs/Pharmaceutical%20Rice-FINAL.pdf

For Center for Food Safety's comments to USDA warning of contamination and other
risks, see:
http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/pubs/Biopharm%20Rice%20Kansas%20comme...

__________

Center for Food Safety is a national non-profit membership organization working to
protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food
production technologies and promoting sustainable agriculture. In 2000/2001, CFS
was part of a coalition that discovered widespread contamination of the food
supply with genetically engineered StarLink corn, which had not been approved for
human consumption due to concerns it could cause food allergies. In the past
year, CFS has won three cases against USDA for the Agriculture Department's
reckless and illegal approval of genetically engineered crops. See
www.centerforfoodsafety.org.

The Kansas Rural Center is a non-profit research, education and advocacy
organization that promotes environmentally sound farming practices and a safe and
healthy food system, benefiting both farmers and consumers. See
www.kansasruralcenter.org.

The Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering was formed in 1999 to provide
a national voice for farmers on agriculture biotechnology. The Campaign provides
education, training and support to farmers and farm groups on agricultural
biotechnology issues.