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USDA Forced to Disclose Locations of Genetically Modified Crops

On August 5, 2004, District Court Judge David A. Ezra sided with Earthjustice and ordered the US Department of Agriculture to disclose the locations of open-air field tests of biopharmaceutical crops in Hawai'i. This practice of "biopharming" involves genetic modification of food crops consumed by humans and livestock, such as corn and soybeans, to produce industrial chemicals and drugs. The tests produce crops that have not been approved for general release into the food supply or the environment, yet they are grown outdoors in open fields, potentially exposing humans and ecosystems to contamination.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice to compel the USDA to conduct long-overdue reviews of the environmental and public health impacts of these field tests. The USDA and the biotech industry have been fiercely resisting disclosing the locations of the test plots, citing fears of "espionage," "vandalism," and "civil unrest." The court, however, affirmed a magistrate judge's finding and ordered the USDA to make the location information available to Earthjustice and its clients immediately, and to the public in 90 days unless the USDA comes up with better evidence of specific harm resulting from disclosure. This decision will allow the people who could be harmed most by the genetically engineered crops to get the information they need.