Subject: USDA Rushing Through Dangerous New Rules
Date: Friday, November 21, 2008, 1:35 PM
This alert is from the True Food Network.
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.