The European Union's highest court this week upheld the E.U.'s temporary ban on the import of biotech foods. The European Court of Justice ruled that individual nations can continue the ban while they study health risks from biotech foods.
The decision was yet another setback for U.S. exporters and farmers, who claim the ban costs them some $300 million a year in lost sales of bioengineered corn.
American interests charge the ban is based on unfounded fear, not sound science. But some European nations say the unintentional cross-pollination of biotech and conventional crops could yield unexpected results.
Based on a new report issued this week, that may be cause for concern in this country, as well.
In trying to get a handle on where and how Bt corn is being grown, a survey of nearly 290,000 farms in ten Midwestern states found that almost 20 percent of the farms failed to comply with federal planting requirements.
The Environmental Protection Agency requires farmers to grow the pest-resistant biotech corn in fields surrounded by conventional corn. The perimeter is meant to be a refuge to prevent pests from developing resistance to the Bt variety. However, EPA officials -- charged with regulating the plants because the corn contains a gene that acts like a pesticide to kill corn borers -- do not visit farms to see if farmers are complying with federal planting requirements.
The EPA relies on seed companies to ensure farmers know the rules. Currently, farmers who don't comply are suppose to receive a letter from the biotech seed company. If they still fail to comply, the company can stop selling them seed. But there is no incentive for seed companies to penalize or fine noncompliant farmers because those farmers are customers of the seed companies.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest suggests the EPA restrict seed companies from selling Bt seeds in counties where many farmers have failed to comply with the rules. The public interest group also says farmers need an incentive to plant conventional corn around Bt crops.