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Pioneer Pays Fine in Biotech Corn Mix-Up
(April 25, 2003)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined biotech company Pioneer $72,000 for failing to immediately report crops that tested positive for genetic material from last year's (2002) controversial planting error of experimental corn. The Iowa-based company has found that 12 corn plants at a site in Kauai, Hawaii had traces of a crop it had genetically designed to resist rootworm. As part of its accord with EPA, Pioneer tested the new seed corn in the buffer zone - about 300,000 plants. That's when the company discovered traces of the latest mix-up.

Pioneer was cited in December, 2002 for growing rootworm-resistant corn beyond its allotted field in a 1,260-foot buffer zone - too close to other corn fields. After EPA officials found the error, the company destroyed the corn in the buffer strip and planted regular seed corn in its place.

However, EPA believes experimental corn grown in another Pioneer-owned plot is to blame for the contamination. That crop, which also is rootworm-resistant, is monitored by the Agriculture Department because the plot is smaller than 10 acres. EPA is in charge of regulating fields 10 acres or larger.

Pioneer doesn't believe it broke any laws, said Courtney Chabot Dreyer, a company spokeswoman.

Greg Jaffe, biotechnology director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, applauds the EPA's decision but at the same time said the incident with Pioneer reveals significant gaps in regulations. "Any level (of contamination) is unacceptable," Jaffe said. "Both the company and the government did not meet their obligation to contain experimental plots."

Jaffe added, "To truly deter such bad corporate behavior in the future, fines ten or twenty times higher may be more appropriate. Neither the industry nor the government is doing enough to contain biotech field trials."