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USDA sued for violating FOIA, denying Americans the right to know the harmful effects of GMOs


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(NaturalNews) A food activist organization has filed suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, alleging that one of its agencies is in violation of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provisions after failing to provide requested documents.

The Center for Food Safety, in its suit against the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, said the agency has ignored FOIA requests for records related to genetically engineered crops by unlawfully delaying responses and withholding public disclosure of information.

As reported by Sustainable Pulse, the suit charges that APHIS has failed to provide timely responses to at least 29 separate FOIA requests or appeals. In addition, the suit claims that of those cases, the agency has failed to provide a final response to ten requests and two appeals.

The suit is asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to order APHIS to promptly provide the center with requested information and to further order the agency to end its practice of failing to respond in a timely manner to future FOIA requests for GMO-related data.

Violating the public's right to know

"APHIS has a track record of irresponsible and inadequate regulation of GE crops. In the absence of thorough government oversight, public access to information about these crops becomes all the more critical," said Cristina Stella, staff attorney for Center for Food Safety. "This lawsuit is necessary to stop APHIS from continuing to ignore its duty to provide the public with information that affects farmers, communities, and the environment."

As Sustainable Pulse reported, GMO crops have caused agronomic and environmental damage, including the transgenic contamination of traditional and organic crops. In addition, studies show they can have negative health implications.

Here are just a few examples:

  • In 2010, we reported on a study that found three approved GMO crops were linked to organ damage, and all three were manufactured by Monsanto;
  • In 2013, we reported that GMO multi-toxin crops were continuing to backfire as more insects were becoming resistant to crop chemicals;
  • The same year, we reported that the European Food Safety Authority issued a report stating that most GMOs in commercial use contain a hidden viral gene that appears to be unsafe for human consumption.
Without question, the vast majority of GMO crops are bioengineered to resist weeds and pests, but their introduction has only increased total overall pesticide use, especially in U.S. agriculture.

No oversight and no new rules to fix the problem

As noted by Sustainable Pulse, APHIS serves an oversight role for GMO crops under regulations that were drafted and implemented in the 1990s. In March, the agency suddenly abandoned plans to update those regulations, which the agency had been proposing to do since 2004. Under current rules, experimental trials of GMO crops have often been found to escape containment, thereby contaminating nearby fields, but APHIS has so far refused to monitor or regulate such crops once they are commercialized.

The agency's inadequate oversight has often been criticized and found to be lacking in various government reports and federal courts. The shortcomings, however, could likely be resolved through an update of the agency's current set of regulations.

In addition to punting on other requests for information, APHIS has also failed to respond to FOIA requests related to its decision to withdraw proposed regulatory fixes, an allegation also contained in the center's lawsuit.

"The longer APHIS fails to use its full authority to regulate the environmental and agricultural harms from GE crops, such as transgenic contamination of nearby crops, pesticide drift, and endangerment of protected species, the more these harms will occur," said Stella. "CFS has been seeking information about these harms for over ten years—and for over ten years, APHIS has continually ignored our requests. It cannot continue to do so."

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