In a ruling that could make it more difficult for the USDA to speed through permits for the testing of genetically engineered crops, a federal judge halted field trials of several controversial GMOs yesterday pending a more detailed review of their potential environmental hazards. It was the first time a field trial of a GE crop has been stopped by a U.S. court. Judge Harold Kennedy found the USDA should have required environmental impact statements before approving field trials of pesticide-resistant creeping bentgrass and Kentucky bluegrass in Oregon. Last year, pollen from the grasses escaped from the test area and fertilized plants several miles away in a national grassland.
The ruling was a rebuke to a common practice at the USDA of approving GMO field trials under a “categorical exclusion”–basically, an argument that field trials are too environmentally insignificant to merit detailed oversight. Although the judicial pounding has by no means driven a nail in the coffin of GMOs, it’s certainly a sign that the USDA is starting to face rebukes for years of lax policies on a very poorly understood area of science.