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EPA Fines Monsanto for Distributing Misbranded GE Cotton

(Beyond Pesticides, July 14, 2010) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that Monsanto Company Inc. has agreed to pay a $2.5 million penalty to resolve misbranding violations related to the sale and distribution of cotton seed products containing genetically engineered (GE) pesticides. This is the largest civil administrative penalty settlement ever received under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

“This agreement shows that when a company violates the law by distributing misbranded pesticides, EPA will take action,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “The regulated community should understand that we take these violations seriously, and the public will accept nothing less than compliance.”

“People who manufacture and distribute pesticide products must follow the federal registration requirements,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “These requirements are critical to preventing the development and spread of insect resistance.”

Monsanto Bollgard and Bollgard II cotton seed products contain genetically engineered pesticides known as plant incorporated protectants (PIPs), which are registered as a pesticidal product under FIFRA. As a condition of the registrations, EPA included planting restrictions on Bollgard and Bollgard II, which contain the PIP Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). EPA restricted planting of the cotton seed product in 10 Texas counties (Carson, Dallam, Hansford, Hartley, Hutchison, Lipscomb, Moore, Ochiltree, Roberts and Sherman) to protect against pests becoming resistant to Bt PIPs and other microbial products used in sprays and dusts. Monsanto was required to control the sale and distribution of the cotton seed by including information on the planting restrictions in its labeling and grower guides.

In 2007, Monsanto disclosed to EPA that it had distributed misbranded Bollgard and Bollgard II cotton seed to customers in the Texas counties where EPA had restricted its planting. EPA’s subsequent investigation confirmed that between 2002 and 2007, the company distributed or sold the cotton products more than 1,700 times nationwide without the planting restrictions in its grower guides and that Bollgard and Bollgard II cotton was planted in the restricted counties.

Monsanto subsequently corrected the grower guides by including the required planting restriction for the Bollgard and Bollgard II products. In September 2008, EPA lifted the planting restriction in the 10 Texas counties for Bollgard II, after Monsanto applied for a change in the registration of that product. Monsanto last year said it was accelerating its long-term strategy to shift the majority of its business to genetically altered seeds for chemical-intensive farming operations, even though recent sales of GE seeds have declined as customers continue to shun its pesticidal technology in favor of cheaper generic versions.

Genetically engineered seeds that incorporate genes that are intended to resist insects or herbicides (like Round-up treated seeds) have seen their costs skyrocket over the last few years. In spite of this, more and more food products are produced from GE crops. GE crops can contaminate conventional or organic crops through “genetic drift” and take a toll on the environment- increase resistant weeds, contaminate water and affect pollinators and other non-target organisms. The long-term health effects of consuming GE food are still unknown. GE crops present a unique risk to organic growers. Wind-pollinated and bee-pollinated crops, such as corn and alfalfa, have higher risks of cross pollination between GE crops and unmodified varieties. Currently, no provision exists to effectively protect organic farms from contamination, although EPA has required “refuges” or non-GE planted barriers around sites planted with GE crops.

A recent Supreme Court judgment involving GE alfalfa ruled that the ban on GE alfalfa remains intact, and that the planting and sale of GE alfalfa remains illegal, pending environmental review. In addition, the Court opinion supported the argument that gene flow (contamination) is a serious environmental and economic threat. This means that genetic contamination from GE crops can still be considered harm under the law, both from an environmental and economic perspective. A federal district Judge in California denied a preliminary injunction on GE sugar beets and sugar beet seeds. The Court declined to impose an immediate ban on GE sugar beets because the seeds have already become so entrenched that there is not enough conventional (non-GE) seed available for a full crop this year.

GE seeds are patented by Monsanto which means farmers face lawsuits if they try to save and replant the GE seed because they do not own the technology. This means farmers are forced to purchase seeds from Monsanto for each growing season. Farms contaminated with GE material from neighboring farms have been sued by Monsanto, as in the case of Percy Schmeiser (Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser) who was taken to court by Monsanto for patent infringement after unknowingly cultivating GE canola.

In a related matter, recently Monsanto donated crop seeds, some treated with toxic pesticides, to earthquake stricken Haiti to much protest in Haiti and abroad. Advocates for Haitian peasants said a U.S.-based company’s donation is an effort to shift farmer dependence from local seed to more expensive hybrid varieties and will harm the island-nation’s agriculture. Peasant farmer leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) called the donation a new earthquake. Haitian farmers and small growers traditionally save seed from season to season or buy the seed they desire from traditional seed markets.

Beyond Pesticides opposes the use of GE crops. Whether it is the incorporation into food crops of genes from a natural bacterium (Bt) or the development of a herbicide (Round-up)-resistant crop, the approach to pest management is short sighted and dangerous. Organic agriculture, however, does not permit GE crops or the use of synthetic herbicides. It focuses on effecting good land stewardship and a reduction in hazardous chemical exposures for workers on the farm. For more information, see Beyond Pesticides’ GE Program and Organic Program pages.

Source: EPA News Release


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