Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bush Administration USDA Rushing Through Dangerous New Rules on Genetically Engineered Foods & Crops

  • USDA Rushing Through Dangerous New Rules on GE and Pharmaceutical Crops
    True Food Network, November 21, 2008
    Straight to the Source

Dear Organic Consumers,

In the waning months of the Bush administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has joined the ranks of federal agencies rushing through new regulations that weaken protections for human health and the environment. USDA has released a proposed rule that would significantly weaken oversight of all genetically engineered crops, and which continue to allow companies to grow food crops engineered to produce drugs and industrial chemicals.

The USDA began this process over four years ago by promising stricter oversight. Unfortunately, improvements considered early on have been dismissed, and the proposed rule now has the same gaping holes as the policy it is replacing, and creates a few new ones, as well. For instance:

* USDA has created a huge loophole allowing biotech companies to assess their own crops to determine whether USDA should regulate them. And the criteria are open-ended, very subjective, and will certainly reduce USDA's oversight of GE crops.

* The proposed rules could also allow companies to grow untested GE crops with no oversight whatsoever: "Over time, the range of GE organisms subject to oversight is expected to decrease...," a move which USDA itself admits will make contamination of conventional/organic crops with untested GE material more likely.

* To add insult to injury, USDA has proposed to write into law its "Low Level Presence" policy, which excuses it from taking any action to remove untested GE crops from conventional or organic food, feed and seed. This contamination often occurs through cross-pollination or seed dispersal, and has cost farmers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales and lowered profits.

* USDA rejected options that would have banned outdoor cultivation of pharmaceutical-producing GE (food) crops, the only way to ensure that untested drugs don't end up in our food, despite strong support from citizens and the food industry.

* USDA has refused to propose any controls on pesticide-promoting GE crops, despite increasing pesticide use and an epidemic of resistant weeds that have been fostered by these crops.

* Finally, USDA snuck in a last-minute "correction" that bars state or local regulation of GE crops more protective than its own weak rule. CFS strongly opposes such preemptive language that would bar local or state authorities from putting meaningful regulations or restrictions on GE crops in place that best suit their communities. This last-minute change should be cause to extend the public comment period.

The USDA is treading dangerous new ground here. The structure of the new proposal opens loopholes that can be exploited by biotech companies and expose consumers to more untested and unlabeled genetically engineered foods.

After denying requests for an extension to the short comment period given for the proposed rules, USDA's comment period closes on Monday. Sign our petition to the USDA today and demand stronger-not weaker-regulations for genetically engineered crops!

Full Petition Text:

Docket No. APHIS-2008-0023
Regulatory Analysis and Development
PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8
4700 River Road Unit 118
Riverdale, MD 20737-1238.

Re: Docket No. APHIS-2008-0023, Importation, Interstate Movement, and Release into the Environment of Certain Genetically Engineered Organisms.

I am very concerned about the risks genetically engineered crops--especially those engineered to produce drugs and industrial chemicals--pose to human health, family farmers, wildlife, and the environment. I urge USDA to close the gaping loopholes in its proposed rules, and put stronger--not weaker--regulations in place. In particular:

1)Please follow the advice of the National Academy of Sciences and make genetic engineering the trigger for USDA oversight so that ALL experimental GE crops are properly regulated. This approach is scientifically sound, administratively efficient, and more protective of public health, the environment, and the interests of farmers. Eliminate loopholes that exempt any GE crop that has not undergone a determination of non-regulated status from USDA regulatory oversight.

2)Please do NOT incorporate the "Low Level Presence" policy in the final rule. Instead, make zero presence of experimental GE crops in food and feed your management goal, and gear your implementing regulations to achieve it as fully as possible. In particular, make all field trials of experimental GE crops subject to strict gene containment standards at least as stringent as those now applied to pharmaceutical-producing GE crops.

3)Please reconsider your "business as usual" pharma crop policy, and instead adopt one of two alternatives you proposed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement - a simple ban on outdoor cultivation of all pharmaceutical-producing crops, or at least pharmaceutical-producing food crops - to best protect public health and the environment.

4)Please regulate as necessary pesticide-promoting, herbicide-tolerant GE crops in order to address the rise in pesticide use these crops have fostered, and to mitigate the growing threat posed by herbicide-resistant weeds to farmers and the interests of American agriculture.

5)Remove any preemption clause that bars state and local authorities from enacting laws or regulations to control GE crops as they best see fit.

Signed by:
[Your name]
Sign petition at: http://ga3.org/campaign/GMOregs

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