A blistering report was issued Tuesday to the Department of Agriculture by its auditor over the department's failure to properly regulate field trials of genetically engineered crops. In many cases, the report said, regulators didn't even know where the field trials actually were.
The rebuke came the day after Monsanto, the St. Louis-based company that develops insect- and herbicide-resistant crops, announced it had received federal regulatory clearance for two of its genetically modified corn traits. One combines Roundup herbicide with the company's traits that protect corn against rootworm. The second includes protection against the corn borer pest.
This clearance is a "major step," said Monsanto, towards commercialization of the two products. Now the company will seek the necessary authorization at state level and in foreign markets importing U.S.-grown corn that should allow it to market the products.
While there is resistance to deregulation of GM seeds and crops in the European Union, in the United States the major varieties of genetically modified corn, cotton and soybeans have all been approved for planting.
The revelation of the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service failure to regulate field trials of genetically engineered crops is disturbing. It has raised the risk, according to a report in the New York Times, that they may have been released into the environment.
Biotechnology regulators from the department, which is responsible for the regulation of biotech field trials, were criticized for not always noticing violations of their own rules, for not inspecting planting sites and not ensuring that the genetically engineered crops were destroyed once the field trial was completed.
Worse, the auditors found that in most cases they checked, the Department of Agriculture had failed to impose the stricter trial requirements demanded with genetically modified crops being developed for pharmaceuticals or industrial chemicals.
Trial sites had not been inspected five times each during field tests, despite department pledges. Nor, once the trial was over, were they twice inspected to ensure the crop had been destroyed and the field was fallow.
Trials of genetically modified crops destined for human or animal consumption are governed by less stringent regulations.
Between May 2003 and April 2005, the period of the inspection, auditors visited 91 field test sites, where in 11 cases they found 13 instances of violations of rules.
In 1994, 8,700 acres of land were involved in field trials for genetically engineered crops. In 2004, developers proposed to use 67,000 acres.
The Inspection Service said it would be adopting some of the inspector general's recommendations and that other changes would take place. But it would seem critics of genetically engineered seeds and crops who fear their effect upon natural seeds and crops may have had their concern echoed by the Office of Inspector General.
Cheer up with this meal-in-a-soup-dish:
-- Cod and Potato Chowder
-- Serves 4-6
-- 6 4 ounce thick fillets of cod or hake
-- 4 thick-cut slices bacon, scissors-snipped into inch-wide strips
-- 2 leeks, white part only sliced into rings then well washed
-- 1 ½ pints fish stock or clam juice
-- 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and cut into inch-sized cubes
-- 1 sprig fresh thyme leaves, chopped
-- juice from 1 lemon
-- 1 handful roughly chopped flat parsley
-- 1/2 cup whipping cream
-- salt and freshly ground black pepper
-- Fry bacon in sauté pan until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Fry leeks in the bacon fat.
-- Cover and cook until soft, stirring frequently 3-4 minutes.
-- Add remaining ingredients except for bacon and cream and simmer till potatoes are soft.
-- Lay the cod over the mass, cover and cook gently till opaque, 8-10 minutes.
-- Stir in cream, grind over pepper and add salt to taste, then sprinkle bacon and parsley over and serve.
-- Simmer until potatoes are just tender, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. Stir in cream and lemon juice. Season chowder to taste with salt and pepper.
-- With a slotted spoon, put a piece of cod in each dish and ladle over the remaining soup, then sprinkle with bacon and parsley.