Center for Food Safety challenges
USDA on genetically engineered crops
Source of Article: http://www.freshplaza.com/news_detail.asp?id=30422
The Center for Food Safety responded today to the United States Department of
Agriculture's (USDA) new proposed regulations for the oversight of growing
genetically engineered (GE) crops. In the Center's view, while stricter
regulation of growing and field testing GE crops is needed, the USDA's
proposal fails to fully protect the public's safety or the environment. The
Center contends that these proposed regulations may set in motion a process
that would put many GE crops completely beyond the bounds of regulation, and
outside the safety net designed to protect the American public.
"The USDA has missed a golden opportunity to improve its oversight of
genetically engineered crops", said Bill Freese,
science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety. "This USDA
proposal has the same gaping holes as the policy it is replacing, and creates
a few new ones, as well."
According to the Center, the biggest concern is that the proposed rules remove
established criteria vital in determining the very scope of regulation.
Previously, regulation of GE crops was based on the presence of genetic
elements from a list of “plant pests” codified under Section 340.2. This
fairly comprehensive list covered almost all of the genetic elements
companies used to engineer crops. However, under the new policy, the USDA
proposes “deleting the list of organisms which are or contain plant pests,”
effectively removing triggers to regulation and leaving the decision to the
discretion of the USDA or even biotech companies themselves.
"Whether a GE crop falls within the scope of regulation or not will now
be much more open to interpretation", continued Freese.
"We can expect the range of GE organisms subject to oversight to
decrease over time, allowing for future food safety regulatory
The USDA also failed to address the epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds
associated with ubiquitous herbicide-tolerant GE crops, the Center claims.
Resistant weeds have led to increased use of chemical weed killers, rising
production costs for growers, and in some cases accelerated soil erosion
caused by the additional mechanical tillage required to remove resistant
Another overlooked key area is the use of food crops for biopharming.
The USDA proposal will continue to allow the controversial practice of
growing food crops engineered as "biofactories"
for pharmaceuticals and industrial compounds. Over the last several years,
these crops have come dangerously close to being comingled with those
destined for the human food supply, raising the possibility of untested
pharmaceutical proteins ending up in our food.
The Center also believes that the USDA has failed to properly address the
issue of conventional and organic crop contamination by GE varieties. 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. The new policy incorporates the USDA's Low Level Presence Policy,
which states that “low level contamination” is no longer actionable. Given
this, the USDA can choose to allow contamination of conventional or organic
crops by untested GE experimental crops to occur without the need to stop
interstate shipments of the contaminated crops.
"The USDA is treading dangerous new ground here", added Freese. "While they appear at first glance to be
tightening regulation of an industry that desperately needs better oversight,
the structure of the new proposal actually opens loopholes that can be
exploited by biotech companies and expose consumers to more untested and
unlabeled genetically engineered foods."
About the Center for Food Safety
The Center for Food Safety is national, non-profit, membership organization
founded in 1997 to protect human health and the environment by curbing the
use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and
other forms of sustainable agriculture.