PESTICIDE ACTION NETWORK NORTH AMERICA UPDATES SERVICE
US and Canada Lead the World in Herbicide Tolerance Field-testing
August 31, 1993
Despite industry claims of the environmental soundness of
agricultural biotechnology, the majority of field tests of novel
genetically engineered organisms developed by these corporations
are still focused on herbicide resistance. A recent survey by the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
found that herbicide tolerance is the most commonly field-tested
trait in genetically engineered crop trials around the world.
Since 1986, 483 field tests for herbicide tolerance have been
approved -- 57% of the total number of trials. The number of
approvals of herbicide tolerant crops is more than four times
greater than the number for the next most frequently tested
trait, virus resistance. The United States (37%) and Canada (36%)
account for nearly three-quarters of total OECD field- testing.
A recent summary from the government agency Agriculture
Canada indicates that 501 applications for field trials of
genetically engineered crops have been received so far this year.
The most common breeding objective was listed as novel herbicide
tolerance. Included in the list of applications are the usual
suspects: Hoechst Canada testing glufosinate-ammonium tolerance
in alfalfa and Monsanto testing glyphosate tolerance in canola.
Activists in Canada discovered a startling fact while
investigating field- testing in their country: in the 1990-91
field season, the number one tester of genetically engineered
crop plants in Canada was also the regulatory agency itself,
Agriculture Canada. Members of the Biotechnology Caucus of the
Canadian Environment Network explain that since 1988, Agriculture
Canada has assessed and approved these tests without providing
any opportunity for public participation in the regulatory
process. In finding out the locations for the 1990-91 test sites,
about half were obtained through the Federal access of
information law, while the rest were leaked by federal employees.
Herbicide tolerant plants are being developed to increase
the agrichemical industry's market for certain key chemicals.
According to "Biotechnology's Bitter Harvest," a 1990 report from
the U.S. based Biotechnology Working Group, genetically
engineering canola to tolerate glyphosate could mean hundreds of
millions of dollars in additional sales for Monsanto; development
of crops tolerant to Hoechst's Basta (glufosinate- ammonium)
would increase the herbicide's global sales by an estimated $200
million a year.
While the companies attempt to portray these chemicals as
"environmentally friendly," they are definitely not friendly to
the humans applying them. Glyphosate is one of the top ten
chemicals in terms of worker illness in agriculture in
California. Calgene has recently asked for permission from the
USDA to begin large scale field testing of bromoxynil tolerant
cotton. Bromoxynil, manufactured by Rhone-Poulenc, is a proven
mutagen, and readily absorbed through the skin. Both the
California and U.S. Environmental Protection Agencies have
increased worker protection requirements for use of bromoxynil.
Biotech activists advocate the regulation of herbicide-tolerant
plants as pesticides, because of the increased use and impacts of
the target herbicides. For instance, it is estimated that over
one million acres of cotton in California could eventually be
planted with bromoxynil tolerant cotton.
Sources: The Gene Exchange 4(1), National Wildlife Federation,
May 1993. "Agriculture Canada Receives 501 Applications for
Field Testing," env.biotech on EcoNet.
Contacts: CEN Biotechnology Caucus, Canadian Institute for
Environmental Law and Policy, 517 College Street, Suite 400,
Toronto, Ont., M6G 4A2. Biotechnology Working Group, c/o
Minnesota Food Association, 2395 University Avenue, Room 309,
Saint Paul, MN 55114; phone (612) 644-2038.
Resource: "Biotechnology's Bitter Harvest," Biotechnology Working
Group, available from Pesticide Action Network North America
Regional Center, 116 New Montgomery St., Suite 810, San
Francisco, CA 94105; phone: (415) 541- 9140, fax: (415) 541-9253
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