USDA urged to strengthen GMO regulations

Center for Food Safety says government should be better protecting farmers, the public and environment

Two federal agencies charged with oversight of genetically engineered crops and animals are being urged by environmental, food safety and other entities to substantially strengthen their proposed rules to protect farmers and the public.

The statement from the Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth U.S. in Washington D.C. came on June 19 as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded public comment periods on proposed changes to oversight of GE crops and animals.

USDA is in the process of revising its three decade-old rules governing GE plants and other GE organisms. The two environmental entities contend that while USDA has more authority to strengthen oversight, its proposed new rules would weaken it.

USDA spokesman Rick Coker said the agency would carefully consider all comments received on the issue through June 19, along with those submitted at public meetings held in Davis, CA, Kansas City MO, and Riverdale, MD. As they decide how or whether to finalize the proposed revised regulations.

“We are in the early stages of analyzing those comments, including tallying the number of comments received,” Coker said. “Until we carefully evaluate the comments, it’s unclear when we will reach a decision on how or whether to finalize the proposed revisions.”

“The haphazard and negligent regulation of agricultural biotechnology has been nothing short of a disaster for the public and the environment,” said George Kimbrell, legal director at Center for Food Safety. “While USDA should be protecting farmers and the environment, it has instead turned a blind eye to the harms that GE crops cause. Unfortunately, the proposed rules would make things worse, not better, with less oversight, not more.”

The proposed USDA rules would continue to permit large increases in the use of harmful chemicals with new herbicide-resistant GE crops, and do nothing to stop the epidemic of resistant super weeds or crop-damaging herbicide drift that plagues farmers, according to Center for Food Safety. Transgenic contamination would continue unchecked, harming conventional and organic growers, and newer GE crops like grasses and trees would create even greater novel risks, the center said.

Kimbrell said he expected USDA to complete regulation changes by year’s end.

Such changes come under guidelines allotted to administrative federal agencies, to pass and executive their own laws, which are known as administrative laws.

Along with the USDA comment period, FDA had requested comments on how to regulation GE animals and GE plants developed with new genetic engineering techniques.  FDA has never issued rules for assessing genetically engineered animals. Instead, Center for Food Safety contends, GE animals are reviewed under entirely inappropriate regulations designed for new animal drugs.  Last year, for example, the DFA approved genetically engineered salmon using its outdated animal drug rules, an approval Center for Food Safety is currently challenging in court.

On the other side of the proposed changes in federal rules governing GE animals and drops is the Biotechnology innovation Organization, an umbrella group, in Washington D.C. , that identifies itself as the world’s largest trade association representing biotechnology firms, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organization in the United States and more than 30 other countries.

Members include Dow Pharmaceutical Sciences Inc., Dupont Corp., and Monsanto.

On June 5, BIO issued a news release citing a study from the British firm PG Economics, contending over the past 20 years biotech crops have increased agriculture’s environmental sustainability, while providing significant economic benefits. According to the PG Economics study the use of biotech/genetically modified seeds has allowed farmers to adopt more sustainable practices like reduced tillage, significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The report contends that without biotech crops, billions more kilograms of carbon dioxide would have been emitted in 2015 alone-the equivalent of adding 11.9 million cars to the road.  It also states that for farmers using GM seeds from 1996 to 2015, the net global farm income benefit due to GM seed was $167.7 billion.