Appeals Panel Sets Guidelines For Genetic Experiments


Dec 11, 2012 (5 years and 7 months ago)


Washington Post

Appeals Panel Sets Guidelines f
or Genetic Experiments

February 28, 1985


Boyce Rensberger, Washington Post Staff Writer

Bacteria Can Be Released After Evaluation

A U.S. Court of Appeals panel here ruled yesterday that the National Institutes of Health
may allow genetically engineered bacteria to be deliberately released into the
environment but only after evaluat
ing the environmental hazards.

The three
judge panel upheld a U.S. District Court decision that NIH had "not yet
displayed the rigorous attention to environmental concerns demanded by law" when the
agency approved a University of California plan to spray
a potato field with an altered
bacterial strain that could retard the development of frost.

Last May, U.S. District Court Judge John J. Sirica granted an injunction blocking the
experiment that was to have been the first deliberate release of genetically
organisms. The injunction also prohibited NIH from approving any other "deliberate
release" experiments until it could be determined whether the agency had violated the law
in approving the first test without fully assessing environmental impact.

Yesterday's decision upheld the part of the injunction that stopped the California
experiment, but overturned the part that prohibited NIH from approving any other
deliberate release experiments. Nonetheless, the appeals court warned NIH that it must
uct formal environmental assessments for each experi

ment it wants to approve and
that the agency "should at least consider" preparing a so
called programmatic
environmental impact statement covering all deliberate
release experiments.

The unanimous deci
sion was rendered by Senior Circuit Judge George E. MacKinnon
and Circuit Judges J. Skelly Wright and Abner J. Mikva.

The original injunction had been
sought by
Jeremy Rifkin
, a social

activist who has
campaigned against a variety of genetic engineering e
xperiments. "We're very pleased
with the court's decision," Rifkin said, calling it "a victory for the environment and public

Bernard Talbot, an NIH official who helped develop the agency's guidelines on genetic
engineering research, said his age
ncy had not reviewed the decision but added that NIH
had conceded that it should conduct environmental assessments on each proposed

Talbot said NIH has drafted a 60
page environmental assessment of the California
experiment. Although the appea
ls court decision said the California experiment could
proceed if such an assessment were completed, Rifkin's lawyer, Edward Lee Rogers, said
it was possible that Rifkin might challenge the assessment's adequacy in a new suit.

Copyright (c) 1985 The Wash
ington Post