Seed corn companies clear federal charges

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached a $9,900 settlement with the parent company of Pioneer Hi-Bred International over Pioneer’s alleged mishandling of genetically modified seed corn grown under test conditions in West Kaua’i.

In its announcement Thursday, the EPA said it also reached a similar agreement with Dow AgroSciences of Indianapolis, Ind. over similar complaints about a seed corn project on Moloka’i. Dow agreed to a settlement of $8,800.

Neither Dow nor Pioneer admit or denied any wronging but agreed to pay the penalties, the agency said.

EPA also required Pioneer to perform additional crop testing to determine whether any genetic material from the experimental plants were transferred to unmodified corn grown by Pioneer in nearby fields.

The settlement was the result of a “technicality” cited by the EPA, according to Dr. Douglas Tiffany a research scientist for Pioneer on Kaua’i, and Courtney Chabot Dreyer , public relations manager for Pioneer headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa.

When Pioneer applied for a permit for the test project, it had assumed the permit applied to various plots within a parcel that was less than an acre, Tiffany said.

The EPA thought otherwise, he said, and wanted identification of the particular plot that was to be used.

“This was planted in our nursery every year, and it was covered through the permit,” said Tiffany, adding that there was an difference of interpretation between EPA and Pioneer over what areas were covered by the permit.

Dreyer said the project posed no danger to people or the environment.

“No one was at risk, and the material was not near commercial corn production… There are no native plants in Hawai’i that can cross-pollinate with corn seed,” Dreyer said. “No one should be alarmed. We are fine with how everything turned out.”

Pioneer official said EPA had initially sought a $11,000 settlement, but reduced the amount because Pioneer had cooperated with the EPA investigation and because of the technicality issue.

The federal agency contends the two companies failed to comply with conditions of its “experimental use permits” for growing genetically modified corn seed.

The permit allows for field testing of new pesticides to generate data to support their use.

In a news release, Wayne Nastri, the regional administrator of EPA’s Pacific southwest region, said the permit is intended ensure no pollen from the sites is transferred to other corn.

“Companies using experimental permits to field test genetically modified corn need to abide by the conditions in the permits,” Nastri said.

But Tiffany said Pioneer has adhered to strict pollen containment procedures for its project so that “no pollen can escape.”

The complaints against Pioneer and Dow were initiated after an EPA official conducted inspections in March at Dow and Pioneer research fields on Kaua’i and Molokai, respectively.

The inspector found:

– Pioneer Hi-Bred planted its experimental corn in an unapproved location, which was within 1,2600 feet of other Pioneer seed production corn projects.

– Dow did not have an appropriate tree buffer around its experimental project and failed to use hybrid corn varieties as a corn buffer. Both buffer projects were required to ensure the containment of pollen.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net

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