Full list: GMO News

Independent Science News: Monsanto’s Worst Dream May be Coming True

by Jonathan Latham, PhD
May 18, 2015
Full Article

The decision of the Chipotle restaurant chain to make its product lines GMO-free is not most people’s idea of a world-historic event. Especially since Chipotle, by US standards, is not a huge operation. A clear sign that the move is significant, however, is that Chipotle’s decision was met with a tidal-wave of establishment media abuse. Chipotle has been called irresponsible, anti-science, irrational, and much more by the Washington Post, Time Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times, and many others. A business deciding to give consumers what they want was surely never so contentious.

The media lynching of Chipotle has an explanation that is important to the future of GMOs. The cause of it is that there has long been an incipient crack in the solid public front that the food industry has presented on the GMO issue. The crack originates from the fact that while agribusiness sees GMOs as central to their business future, the brand-oriented and customer-sensitive ends of the food supply chain do not.

The brands who sell to the public, such as Nestle, Coca-Cola, Kraft, etc., are therefore much less committed to GMOs. They have gone along with their use, probably because they wish to maintain good relations with agribusiness, who are their allies and their suppliers. Possibly also they see a potential for novel products in a GMO future.

However, over the last five years, as the reputation of GMOs has come under increasing pressure in the US, the cost to food brands of ignoring the growing consumer demand for GMO-free products has increased. They might not say so in public, but the sellers of top brands have little incentive to take the flack for selling GMOs.

From this perspective, the significance of the Chipotle move becomes clear. If Chipotle can gain market share and prestige, or charge higher prices, from selling non-GMO products and give (especially young) consumers what they want, it puts traditional vendors of fast and processed food products in an invidious position. Kraft and MacDonalds, and their traditional rivals can hardly be left on the sidelines selling outmoded products to a shrinking market. They will not last long.

MacDonald’s already appears to be in trouble, and it too sees the solution as moving to more up-market and healthier products. For these much bigger players, a race to match Chipotle and get GMOs out of their product lines, is a strong possibility. That may not be so easy, in the short term, but for agribusiness titans who have backed GMOs, like Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer and Syngenta; a race to be GMO-free is the ultimate nightmare scenario.

Until Chipotle’s announcement, such considerations were all behind the scenes. But all of a sudden this split has spilled out into the food media. On May 8th, Hain Celestial told The Food Navigator that:

“We sell organic products…gluten-free products and…natural products. [But] where the big, big demand is, is GMO-free.”

Why the pressure to remove GMOs will grow
The other factor in all this turmoil is that the GMO technology wheel has not stopped turning. New GMO products are coming on stream that will likely make crop biotechnology even less popular than it is now. This will further ramp up the pressure on brands and stores to go GMO-free. There are several contributory factors.

The first issue follows from the recent US approvals of GMO crops resistant to the herbicides 2,4-D and Dicamba. These traits are billed as replacements for Roundup-resistant traits whose effectiveness has declined due to the spread of weeds resistant to Roundup (Glyphosate).

The causes of the problem, however, lie in the technology itself. The introduction of Roundup-resistant traits in corn and soybeans led to increasing Roundup use by farmers (Benbrook 2012). Increasing Roundup use led to weed resistance, which led to further Roundup use, as farmers increased applications and dosages. This translated into escalated ecological damage and increasing residue levels in food. Roundup is now found in GMO soybeans intended for food use at levels that even Monsanto used to call “extreme” (Bøhn et al. 2014).

The two new herbicide-resistance traits are set to recapitulate this same story of increasing agrochemical use. But they will also amplify it significantly,

The specifics are worth considering. First, the spraying of 2,4-D and Dicamba on the newer herbicide-resistant crops will not eliminate the need for Roundup, whose use will not decline (see Figure).

Predicted herbicide use to 2025 (Mortensen et al 2012)

That is because, unlike Roundup, neither 2,4-D nor Dicamba are broad-spectrum herbicides. They will have to be sprayed together with Roundup, or with each other (or all of them together) to kill all weeds. This vital fact has not been widely appreciated.

Confirmation comes from the companies themselves. Monsanto is stacking (i.e. combining) Dicamba resistance with Roundup resistance in its Xtend crops and Dow is stacking 2,4-D resistance with Roundup resistance in its Enlist range. (Notably, resistance to other herbicides, such as glufosinate, are being stacked in all these GMO crops too.)

The second issue is that the combined spraying of 2,4-D and Dicamba and Roundup, will only temporarily ease the weed resistance issues faced by farmers. In the medium and longer terms, they will compound the problems. That is because new herbicide-resistant weeds will surely evolve. In fact, Dicamba-resistant and 2,4-D-resistant weeds already exist. Their spread, and the evolution of new ones, can be guaranteed (Mortensen et al 2012). This will bring greater profits for herbicide manufacturers, but it will also bring greater PR problems for GMOs and the food industry. GMO soybeans and corn will likely soon have “extreme levels” of at least three different herbicides, all of them with dubious safety records (Schinasi and Leon 2014).

The first time round, Monsanto and Syngenta’s PR snow-jobs successfully obscured this, not just from the general public, but even within agronomy. But it is unlikely they will be able to do so a second time. 2,4-D and Dicamba-resistant GMOs are thus a PR disaster waiting to happen.

A pipeline full of problems: risk and perception
The longer term problem for GMOs is that, despite extravagant claims, their product pipeline is not bulging with promising ideas. Mostly, it is more of the same: herbicide resistance and insect resistance.

The most revolutionary and innovative part of that pipeline is a technology and not a trait. Many products in the GMO pipeline are made using RNA interference technologies that rely on double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs). dsRNA is a technology with two problems. One is that products made with it (such as the “Arctic” Apple, the “Innate” Potato, and Monsanto’s “Vistive Gold” Soybeans) are unproven in the field. Like its vanguard, a Brazilian virus-resistant bean, they may never work under actual farming conditions.

But if they do work, there is a clear problem with their safety which is explained in detail here (pdf).

In outline, the problem is this: the long dsRNA molecules needed for RNA interference were rejected long ago as being too hazardous for routine medical use (Anonymous, 1969). The scientific literature even calls them “toxins”, as in this paper title from 1969:

Absher M., and Stinebring W. (1969) Toxic properties of a synthetic double-stranded RNA. Nature 223: 715-717. (not online)

As further evidence of this, long dsRNAs are now used in medicine to cause autoimmune disorders in mice, in order to study these disorders (Okada et al 2005).

The Absher and Stinebring paper comes from a body of research built up many years ago, but its essential findings have been confirmed and extended by more modern research. We now know why dsRNAs cause harm. They trigger destructive anti-viral defence pathways in mammals and other vertebrates and there is a field of specialist research devoted to showing precisely how this damages individual cells, whole tissues, and results in auto-immune disease in mice (Karpala et al. 2005).

The conclusion therefore, is that dsRNAs that are apparently indistinguishable from those produced in, for example, the Arctic apple and Monsanto’s Vistive Gold Soybean, have strong negative effects on vertebrate animals (but not plants). These vertebrate effects are found even at low doses. Consumers are vertebrate animals. They may not appreciate the thought that their healthy fats and forever apples also contain proven toxins. And on a business front, consumer brands will not relish defending dsRNA technology once they understand the reality. They may not wish to find themselves defending the indefensible.

The bottom line is this. Either dsRNAs will sicken or kill people, or, they will give opponents of biotechnology plenty of ammunition. The scientific evidence, as it currently stands, suggests they will do both. dsRNAs, therefore, are a potentially huge liability.

The last pipeline problem stems from the first two. The agbiotech industry has long held out the prospect of “consumer benefits” from GMOs. Consumer benefits (in the case of food) are most likely to be health benefits (improved nutrition, altered fat composition, etc.). The problem is that the demographic of health-conscious consumers no doubt overlaps significantly with the demographic of those most wary of GMOs. Show a consumer a “healthy GMO” and they are likely to show you an oxymoron. The likely health market in the US for customers willing to pay more for a GMO has probably evaporated in the last few years as GMOs have become a hot public issue.

The end-game for GMOs?

The traditional chemical industry approach to such a problem is a familiar repertoire of intimidation and public relations. Fifty years ago, the chemical industry outwitted and outmanoeuvered environmentalists after the death of Rachel Carson (see the books Toxic Sludge is Good for You and Trust Us We’re Experts). But that was before email, open access scientific publication, and the internet. Monsanto and its allies have steadily lost ground in a world of peer-to-peer communication. GMOs have become a liability, despite their best efforts.

The historic situation is this: in any country, public acceptance of GMOs has always been based on lack of awareness of their existence. Once that ignorance evaporates and the scientific and social realities start to be discussed, ignorance cannot be reinstated. From then on the situation moves into a different, and much more difficult phase for the defenders of GMOs.

Nevertheless, in the US, those defenders have not yet given up. Anyone who keeps up with GMOs in the media knows that the public is being subjected to an unrelenting and concerted global blitzkrieg.

Pro-GMO advocates and paid-for journalists, presumably financed by the life-science industry, sometimes fronted by non-profits such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are being given acres of prominent space to make their case. Liberal media outlets such as the New York Times, the National Geographic, The New Yorker, Grist magazine, the Observer newspaper, and any others who will have them (which is most) have been deployed to spread its memes. Cornell University has meanwhile received a $5.6 million grant by the Gates Foundation to “depolarize” negative GMO publicity.

But so far there is little sign that the growth of anti-GMO sentiment in Monsanto’s home (US) market can be halted. The decision by Chipotle is certainly not an indication of faith that it can.

For Monsanto and GMOs the situation suddenly looks ominous. Chipotle may well represent the beginnings of a market swing of historic proportions. GMOs may be relegated to cattle-feed status, or even oblivion, in the USA. And if GMOs fail in the US, they are likely to fail elsewhere.

GMO roll-outs in other countries have relied on three things: the deep pockets of agribusinesses based in the United States, their political connections, and the notion that GMOs represent “progress”. If those three disappear in the United States, the power to force open foreign markets will disappear too. The GMO era might suddenly be over.

Endnote: The report by Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson on RNA interference and dsRNAs in GMO crops is downloadable from here. Accompanying Tables are here.


Food-Navigator USA: GMA et al file appeal vs Vermont GMO ruling, but they are running out of time, say attorneys

By Elaine Watson+
07-May-2015
Full Article

As widely predicted, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is appealing a federal court ruling denying its bid to halt implementation of Vermont’s GMO labeling law (Act 120) until a lawsuit over the Act is resolved.


Food Safety News: Judge: Vermont’s GMO-Labeling Law and Industry Lawsuit Can Both Proceed

U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss decided Monday to let Vermont go ahead with its plans to become the first state to require labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients on July 1, 2016, and to let the Grocery Manufacturers of America-led litigation to stop it from happening proceed.

Both sides were left going through the trial judge’s 84-page decision to see where she agrees and disagrees with both sides. Reiss, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2009 by President Barack Obama, has definitely left both sides with plenty to chew on.

Although the state wanted the lawsuit dismissed, Attorney General William Sorrell told local media there is much in the judge’s decision that goes the state’s way for the “heart and soul” of the labeling law. But the Vermont AG acknowledged it may be a reach for the state in other areas, including its desire to ban food companies using genetically modified ingredients from using the word “natural.”

Like Sorrell, the grocery industry is going through the decision looking for where its case was helped or hurt.

“While we are pleased that the District Court found us likely to succeed on several of our claims, we are nevertheless  disappointed by the court’s ultimate decision to deny our Motion for Preliminary Injunction to block the implementation of the Vermont GMO labeling law — Act 120 — on grounds that the manufacturers had not yet shown a sufficient degree of harm. We are reviewing this decision and considering our legal options,” GMA said in a post-decision statement.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) applauded the court’s decision, suggesting that it has positive implications for other states looking to pass GMO-labeling legislation.

“This landmark ruling not only paves the way for Vermont’s GMO labeling law to take effect on schedule, July 1, 2016, but more importantly it signals that the courts agree that states have a constitutional right to pass GMO labeling laws,” said Ronnie Cummins, OCA’s international director.

“This ruling also bodes well for GMO labeling bills that are moving through other state legislatures, including Maine, where a public hearing on Maine’s LD 991 is scheduled for April 30,” Cummins added.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed Act 120 into a law a year ago, and rules to implement it next year were released earlier this month.


Seven Days: Court Will Not Issue Injunction to Block GMO Law


Apr 27, 2015

Full Article

Vermont won a partial victory Monday in defending a new law that would require labeling of genetically modified foods.

U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss denied the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s motion for a preliminary injunction that would have blocked the law’s enforcement. It is slated to go into effect in July 2016.

Her ruling also dismissed parts of the case challenging the law, but allows other portions to proceed — setting it on course for a trial.

“Today was a big step in moving this case forward,” said Attorney General Bill Sorrell. “There’s much to be happy about for those who think our foods containing genetic engineering should be labeled.”

Key to the state’s case, Sorrell said, was Reiss’ finding that food labeling is within the state’s interests. “The safety of food products, the protection of the environment, and the accommodation of religious beliefs and practices are all quintessential governmental interests,” she wrote, as is the intention to “promote informed consumer decision-making.”

Roger Lowe, executive vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association issued a statement. “While we are pleased that the District Court found us likely to succeed on several of our claims, we are nevertheless disappointed by the court’s ultimate decision to deny our motion for preliminary injunction … on grounds that the manufacturers had not yet shown a sufficient degree of harm,” he said. “We are reviewing this decision and considering our legal options.” Lowe warned the law would “set the nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that will be costly and confusing for consumers.”

Legislators passed the food-labeling law last year, setting the stage for Vermont to become the first state to require foods made with genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and other food giants quickly filed suit in federal court.

Jared Carter, who filed a brief supporting the state through Vermont Law School’s Community Law Center, called the decision “overall very positive. Our biggest fear was she would grant the preliminary injunction.”

Reiss did not take the state’s side on all issues. The law seeks to prohibit the use of the word “natural” on products that contain genetically modified ingredients, but, Reiss said, the state never defined natural. Her ruling says, “The state thus faces an uphill battle in arguing that a GE manufacturer’s use of ‘natural’ terminology is actually or inherently misleading because the alleged deception cannot be measured against a statutory, or even a regulatory, definition of the restricted terms.”


VT Digger: Attorney General adopts GMO labeling rules for Vermont food retailers

John Herrick
Apr. 21 2015
Full Article

The Vermont Attorney General’s Office adopted new regulations last week for labeling food products containing genetically engineered ingredients sold in Vermont after July 1, 2016.

The regulations require manufacturers to place a label anywhere on the package where it can be “easily found” with guidelines on font size and color. Vermont retailers will have to label unpackaged products, including genetically engineered raw agricultural products such as sweet corn and processed foods such as potato salad.

“We are pleased at the amount of public input we received during the rulemaking process – from industry and consumers – and are glad that, with the formal adoption of this rule, we are giving ample time for food manufacturers and retailers to prepare for the law to take effect in just over fourteen months,” said Attorney General Bill Sorrell in a statement.

The Attorney General filed the rule with the Secretary of State’s Office on April 17. Manufacturers will not be liable for compliance until Jan. 1, 2017.

As much as 80 percent of the processed food sold in the United States is a product of modern genetic engineering. Typical genetically engineered ingredients include soy, corn, canola oil and cottonseed oil, which are often found in processed foods.

Some retailers say Vermont’s GMO labeling requirement will impact a wider array of foods than originally anticipated.

“It’s a lot more than just Campbell’s,” said Jim Harrison, president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association.

Campbell Soup Co. is a member of the trade group suing Vermont over the GMO labeling law. The national Grocery Manufacturers Association, and other trade groups, are suing the state over its GMO labeling law, arguing it is unconstitutional. A federal district court judge heard oral arguments in January and a date for a decision has not been scheduled.

Foods that are prepared and intended for immediate consumption, or a taxable meal, are exempt from the labeling requirements.

Internet food sales are also exempt from the labeling requirement under Act 120, the Attorney General determined.

That means online retailers who sell chocolates and specialty foods, for example, are not affected by the law. Harrison said this creates a competitive disadvantage for brick-and-mortar retailers. Next year, he said the association may seek to change the law to include online sales.

Wendy Morgan, chief of the Attorney General Office’s public protection division, said some foods are exempt. Pastries sold at bakeries, for example, do not require a label. These products may fall under the exempt category of “intended for immediate consumption.” Dairy products derived from animals fed genetically engineered food are also exempt.

Andrea Stander, director of Rural Vermont, a supporter of the labeling law, said the regulated community will have time to adjust, and may decide to remove genetically engineered ingredients from product lines.

“For someone who doesn’t want to put that label on their products there are many, many avenues to go and many opportunities to find non-GMO ingredients,” Stander said.

On July 1, she does not expect the grocery stores to look any different. She said consumer demand for non-GMO products is growing, and some manufacturers are responding.

“I think what we are going to see is a lot like what we’ve seen already; we’ve seen more and more products sprouting non-GMO labels on them,” Stander said.


USA Today: Roundup a ‘probable carcinogen,’ WHO report says

Tracy Loew
March 20, 2015
Full Article

A report published Friday in the journal The Lancet Oncology says glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is a “probable carcinogen.”

The report is from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the France-based cancer research arm of the World Health Organization.

“This latest finding, which links Monsanto’s Roundup to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and lung cancer is not the first to make these links, but it is one of the strongest indictments of glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup,” said Ronnie Cummins, international director for the Organic Consumers Association.

Monsanto disagreed with the classification.

“All labeled uses of glyphosate are safe for human health and supported by one of the most extensive worldwide human health databases ever compiled on an agricultural product,” Philip Miller, Monsanto’s global regulatory affairs vice president, said in a written statement.

Roundup is the No. 1 herbicide used in the world. Most genetically modified crops, such as corn and soybeans, are modified to withstand applications of Roundup.

The Department of Agriculture does not test food for glyphosate residues, but in 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency raised the allowed limits of glyphosate residues on fruits and vegetables.

The report comes as legislatures in Oregon and other states consider mandatory labeling of genetically modified food and restricting the planting of genetically modified crops.

It prompted the Environmental Working Group to call on the FDA to require mandatory GMO labeling.

“The widespread adoption of GMO corn and soybeans has led to an explosion in the use of glyphosate — a main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and Dow’s Enlist Duo,” said Ken Cook, EWG president. “Consumers have the right to know how their food is grown and whether their food dollars are driving up the use of a probable carcinogen.”


Environmental Working Group: DARK Act Blocks States From Mandating GMO Labeling

March 25, 2015
Full Press Release

Washington, D.C. – A bill expected to be introduced today by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) would block states from requiring labeling on genetically modified food, and also hamper any U.S. Food and Drug Administration efforts to mandate labeling nationwide, the Environmental Working Group said in a statement.

“More than 90 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, believe foods made with GMOs should be labeled,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for EWG. “Consumers in 64 countries already have the right to know if their food contains GMOs.  Supporters of this bill are trying to keep this basic information from their constituents.”

The bill – dubbed by its critics the Deny Americans the Right-to-Know or DARK Act — would overturn labeling laws enacted in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine and prevent other states from adopting such laws. Since 2013, more than 70 labeling proposals have been introduced in 30 states.

Contrary to promises from the biotechnology industry, the widespread adoption of GMO crops has lead to a surge in herbicide usage. As weeds have grown resistant, farmers have been forced to turn to more intensely toxic chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems. Last week, the World Health Organization classified glyphosate, the active ingredient in the infamous weed killer Roundup, as a probable human carcinogen.

Besides interfering with states’ rights, the DARK Act would make the current, broken voluntary GMO labeling system the law of the land.

“Not a single company has ever voluntarily disclosed the presence of GMOs in its food,” Faber said. “Voluntary labeling does nothing to solve the confusion consumers face at the supermarket, nor does it provide them with the information overwhelming numbers of consumers clearly want.”


The Packer: Congress reintroduces GMO labeling bill

By Andy Nelson

A bill to label genetically engineered foods has been reintroduced in the U.S. Congress.

Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., reintroduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, first introduced in 2013, on Feb. 12, according to a news release from DeFazio’s office.

“We cannot continue to keep Americans in the dark about the food they eat,” DeFazio said in the release. “More than 60 other countries make it easy for consumers to choose. Why should the U.S. be any different? If food manufacturers stand by their product and the technology they use to make it, they should have no problem disclosing that information to consumers.”

The bill would amend the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to require genetically engineered food and foods that contains genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled.

The bill cites “health, economic, environmental, religious and ethical” reasons for why genetically engineered foods should be labeled.

The United Kingdom, all European Union countries, South Korea, Japan, Brazil, Australia, India, China and other countries require labeling, according to the bill.

State and county efforts to label genetically modified foods have had mixed success.

In November, voters in Oregon and Colorado rejected ballot measures mandating labeling.

Voters in Hawaii’s Maui County, however, approved a moratorium on GMO cultivation in the county.

In April, Vermont became the first state to require labeling of foods made with genetically modified ingredients. The law goes into effect in July 2016.


WPTZ: People speak out about GMOs

Second public hearing was held Wednesday
By Robyn Estabrook
Feb 05, 2015
Full Article & Video

MONTPELIER, Vt. —Consumers and members of pro-labeling groups gathered to testify at Wednesday’s public hearing on GMO labeling.

Andrea Stander, with Rural Vermont, thanked Attorney General Bill Sorrell for the way the public process was conducted.

“We appreciate the effort, we appreciate the work that the AG’s office has done both to develop the rule, but also to engage the public.  This is has been a public process from the very beginning,” Stander said.

Stander says things may have gone differently if people didn’t know what was going on.
“This law wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the fact that so many people across Vermont felt that this was an important opportunity for them to know more about where their food comes from and how it is produced,” Stander said.

The proposed rules tell food manufacturers how big the lettering must be on the box, disclosing that the food is produced with genetic engineering. And that could impact thousands of food items shoppers see on the supermarket shelves.

Jennifer Schomp, of Bethel, Vermont, spoke out at the hearing saying the rules need to go more in depth.

“I would say the biggest feedback I get from people discussing the content of the rule and in particularly the exemptions, right now is the rule hasn’t gone far enough to address processed materials, animal feeds, enzymes that are used to process materials,” Schomp said.

“Due to my work and the non GMO labeling that I do, I can certainly attest to the demand of GMO and non GMO labeled foods,”Schomp said.

The deadline for written comments about this issue is Feb. 12.


Capital Press: USDA cannot restrict GMO pine

Mateusz Perkowski

Full Article

A pine tree genetically engineered for greater wood density can be grown without restrictions after the USDA decided it lacks authority to regulate the variety.

The finding has alarmed critics of genetically modified organisms who fear the new cultivar will cross-pollinate with trees in the wild, resulting in unknown consequences for forests.

ArborGen, a tree seedling producer, altered the loblolly pine variety with a “gene gun,” inserting genetic material from the Monterey pine, the American sweetgum tree, mouse ear cress and E. coli bacteria.

None of these organisms are plant pest risks, so the USDA has determined the pine is not a regulated article and can be freely cultivated without undergoing environmental studies, unlike crops that rely on plant pathogens for their transformation.

Higher density in wood is generally associated with strength and durability in lumber as well as higher energy content for biomass uses, said Steven Strauss, a forest biotechnology professor at Oregon State University.

Biotech cultivars that rely on plant pests for gene transfer often undergo lengthy government scrutiny before they’re brought to market, he said.

“The regulatory process is highly political. It’s not just based on science,” Strauss said.

For this reason, companies are seeking alternate ways of commercializing genetically engineered crops, he said. “That’s understandable from the commercial point of view.”

Arborgen, for example, has tried to gain USDA’s approval since 2008 for a freeze-tolerant eucalyptus tree, which was transformed with a soil pathogen and thus must receive the agency’s permission for widespread commercialization.

Environmental groups filed a lawsuit to block the company from field testing the trees, but that request was denied by a federal judge.

Even so, Arborgen was asked to submit additional data about the biotech tree in 2011 and the variety remains regulated while the USDA conducts an in-depth environmental review.

Critics of genetically modified organisms such as the Center for Food Safety worry that Arborgen was able to circumvent field trial permits and other regulatory procedures with its loblolly pine cultivar.

The group claims it’s unprecedented for USDA to allow a genetically engineered tree to be cultivated without any government oversight.

“This is a genetically engineered organism that is going completely unregulated,” said Martha Crouch, biotechnology consultant for the organization.

Strauss, of OSU, said he would like to see more “nimble” regulations governing biotech crops but is nervous about USDA’s lack of authority over GMOs produced without plant pests.

While the USDA may not consider such crops to be regulated articles, other countries may disagree — creating the potential for “chaos in the marketplace,” he said.

The Center for Food Safety is concerned about potential environmental impacts, alleging that changes in wood density could affect decomposition rates and forest species.

Because the USDA decided it lacks regulatory authority over the tree, the agency only considered the method of transformation without assessing any other potential risks that it might pose, said Crouch.