USDA and GMOs: The Roots of Failure

usda_corn_question_2How can the public trust government agencies to ensure the safety of GMOs if those agencies have a long track record of failure?1  Take the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA” or “Agency”) as an example.  Its regulatory track record, as discussed below and elsewhere at GMO Journal, begs the question of whether it is a government “regulatory” agency or an industry group.2  While the specific examples of the Agency’s failure will be discussed separately, the focus here is on examining the main factors that contributed to regulatory inadequacy.

One of those factors, which also plagues other federal agencies, is that USDA’s regulatory authority over GMOs stems from the Coordinate Framework. The Framework established certain guiding principals which many critics find indefensible.  For example, under the Framework biotechnology is assumed to pose no risk, only the products of biotechnology are regulated (not the processes), existing laws are used to regulate the products of biotechnology (rather than advising that new laws devised to deal with novel technology be passed), and regulatory gaps, it is presumed, would be addressed through coordination among agencies.3  By assuming that biotechnology is safe and that the focus of regulation should be on the end product and not the process leads to another controversial principle established by the Framework, namely, that GMOs are functionally equivalent to their unmodified counterparts (doctrine of “substantial equivalence”).4  Despite criticism, these assumptions and principals continue to define the American GMO regulatory regime. As a result, there is a lack of coherent comprehensive government policies in the United States that ensure that new technology is safely explored.5

In this regulatory hodgepodge, the USDA, much like other federal agencies, narrowly focuses on its regulatory GM universe while ignoring overarching questions of safety.6 Much like its sister agencies, USDA has its own mission and regulatory structure, and regulates under the authority of federal statutes, none of which were enacted to address biotechnology.7

Another factor that contributes to USDA’s failure to adequately regulate GMOs is that, similar to other government agencies,8 USDA is tainted with the “revolving-door” syndrome where industry members make smooth transitions into key government posts and back.9 While the concept of appointing industry leaders to government agencies designed to regulate those same industries seems like an obvious conflict of interest to many, apparently government officials appointing industry members to government posts believe differently and have an admirable conviction in the ability of their appointees to conduct themselves objectively.  The rest of us, however, get to live out the effects of the decisions made by (insider)regulators.  And as many of us already know, the little person’s interests are often left out of the equation or, if considered, then only as a distant after thought.  Only when those voices combine into an uproar is there a government reaction–but that is democracy 101 and beyond the scope of this article.

In the final analysis, the combination of inadequate regulatory structure, antiquated and ill-designed to deal with the novel questions presented by the new technology, combined with industry sympathizers as regulators, results in a government agency that is less than willing to regulate and more than willing to pass favorable regulation.

  1. See Rebecca Bratspies, Some Thoughts On the American Approach to Regulating Genetically Modified Organisms, 16 Kan.J.L. & Pub. Pol. 393, 395-98 (2007) (discussing US regulatory agencies and GMOs and noting that “[o]nly when the public believes it has reason to trust that regulators are acting in the public interest will assessments of risks and benefits that underlie regulatory decisions be credible. The most important determinants of trust are a track record of good decisions and an unbiased source.”) (internal citations omitted).
  2. It is worth mentioning that USDA stands at interesting crossroads. While many believe that the Agency’s mission is to protect consumers by ensuring food safety, after all, who has not seen the “USDA Inspected” label on meat products, the Agency lists as its “key” missions, mentioned first, as “expanding markets for agricultural products and support international economic development, further developing alternative markets for agricultural products and activities.” USDA Mission Statement, available at  http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?parentnav=ABOUT_USDA&navid=MISSION_STATEMENT&navtype=RT (last visited on November 24, 2009).
  3. See Bratspies, supra note 1, p. 406; Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, Guide to U.S. Regulation of Genetically Modified Food and Agricultural Biotechnology, pp. 5-6 (2001), available at http://www.pewtrusts.org/uploadedFiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/Reports/Food_and_Biotechnology/hhs_biotech_0901.pdf.
  4. Initiative, supra note 3, p. i.
  5. Bratspies, supra note 1, p 407.
  6. Id.
  7. Id.; see also Brian Tokar, Deficiencies in Federal Regulatory Oversight of Genetically Engineered Crops, Institute for Social Ecology Biotechnology Report (June 2006), available at http://environmentalcommons.org/RegulatoryDeficiencies.html (last visited November 15, 2009).
  8. See e.g., Jeffrey M. Smith, Seeds of Deception, pp.127-159 (2003).
  9. Philip Mattera, USDA INC: How Agribusiness Has Hijacked Regulatory Policy at The US Department of Agriculture, available at http://www.tradewatch.org/documents/USDAInc.pdf(last visited on November 15, 2009); see also Carol Eisenberg, Revolving Door Between Meat Industry, USDA Raises Consumer Safety Concerns, July 2, 2008; Organic Consumer Association, Take Action: Stop Sidiqqi, available at http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/642/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=27042 (last visited on November 29, 2009); Mindfully.Org has a good summary aptly called The Revolving Door, available at http://www.mindfully.org/GE/Revolving-Door.htm(last visited on November 29, 2009); Political Friendster created a great chart on Michael Taylor, available at http://www.politicalfriendster.com/showPerson.php?id=2590&name=Michael-Taylo(last visited on November 29, 2009); see generally, Anne C. Mulkern, When Advocates Become Regulators, available at http://www.mindfully.org/Reform/2004/Advocates-Become-Regulators23may04.htm (last visited on November 29, 2009).
  • http://www.biotechawareness.com Sandi Trend

    WHAT HAPPENS TO SOMEONE WHO WORKS/WORKED IN THE BIOTECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY?

    VIDEO: The Nightmare At Pfizer – Injured Biotech worker Becky McClain
    DESCRIPTION: Becky McClain, injured molecular biologist from Connecticut spoke of the dangers in working in the biotechnology industry during the 2009 Workers Memorial Day event in San Francisco.  Mrs. McClain  also encountered the same plight as David Bell;  NOT KNOWING what she had been exposed to THAT MADE HER SICK ( industry’s “TRADE SECRETS”), non-compliance of: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, agencies within the state of Connecticut, including US Federal Agencies.
    http://blip.tv/file/2061380

    VIDEO, “Injured Agraquest Biotech Worker David Bell Tells His Story”
    DESCRIPTION: Injured Agraquest Biotech Worker David Bell Tells His Story Labor On The Job on 12/12/2008 interviews Agraquest biotech workers David Bell. Bell talks about his work at the Davis California based company owned by Pam Marrone and how the lack of proper health and safety protection led to his contamination and sickness. He also discusses how the company sought to cover-up their responsibility for his illness and the corruption and breakdown of the workers compensation system along with the failure of health and safety regulatory agencies such as OSHA. For further information on his case go to http://www.biotechawareness.com http://www.workersmemorialday.org/documents/fungus.htm Produced by Labor Video Project P.O.Box 720027 San Francisco,CA 94172 Phone (415)282-1908 lvpsf [at] labornet.org http://www.laborvideo.org
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2567912703426192318#

    TRANSCRIPTION OF VIDEO, “Injured Agraquest Biotech Worker David Bell Tells His Story”, WITH SCREEN SHOTS OF EVIDENTIARY DOCUMENTATION:
    http://www.biotechawareness.com/images/davidINTERVIEWtranscript.documents11.28.09.pdf

    WHAT DOES THE EPA DO WITH SUBMISSIONS FROM BIOTECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY; WHEN THEY THEMSELVES FIND PROBLEMS?

    EPA’s Conditional Time Limited Registration
    READ FORM: http://www.biotechawareness.com/images/conditional_registration_aq_qst_713_2000_copy.pdf

    ARE THERE GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES WHO CARE?

    VIDEO, “Workers Comp, The Destruction Of Cal/OSHA/EPA And The Case Of David Bell” DESCRIPTION:
    “Labor On The Job” focuses on the case of Agraquest biotech worker David Bell. Bell who worked at the Davis, CA biotech laboratory owned by former Monsanto scientist Pam Marrone was infected with fungus and bacteria while working. He and his family have faced a terrifying battle for healthcare and justice from injuries on the job. Despite the fact that his mother found material in his body that was patented by scientists at the laboratory he has been prevented from getting full healthcare to save his life. The corruption and breakdown of the workers compensation system is connected to the deregulation of workers compensation and the elimination of all medical doctors at Ca-OSHA. Joining the show is his mother Sandi Trend, the last Ca-OSHA doctor Larry Rose and author of “Death On The Job” Daniel Berman. “Labor On The Job” is programmed the 2nd and 4th Friday of the month on San Francisco Cable Channel 29 from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM. “Labor On The Job” is also the longest running labor cable show in the United States since 1983. It is produced and programmed by the Labor Video Project in San Francisco. Labor On The Job also programmed on Philadelphia Drexel TV 54 every Wednesday 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM and St. Louis cable systems on cable ch. 22 in the “City” of St. Louis Fridays at 9:00 PM The Labor Video Project also produces labor documentaries and is part of the Union Producers and Programmers Network (UPPNET) http://www.uppnet.org Labor Video Project P.O.Box 720027 San Francisco,CA 94172 Phone (415)282-1908 Fax (415)695-1369 lvpsf(at)labornet.org
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8772395089110184693#

    TRANSCRIPTION OF VIDEO, “Workers Comp, The Destruction Of Cal/OSHA/EPA And The Case Of David Bell” http://www.biotechawareness.com/images/TRANSCRIPT_5.13.08DESTRUTION_caOSHA.EPA.pdf

    ARE THERE MEDICAL DOCTORS TO ASSURE SAFETY IN THE BIOTECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY?

    ARTICLE: “CAL OSHA: GOING DOWN THE TUBES?” Author: Lawrence MD, 28 years as the senior Public Medical Officer for the statewide Cal-OSHA enforcement program (recently retired), Occupational/Environmental UCSF DESCRIPTION: Dr. Larry Rose (retired Public Safety Medical Doctor with Cal/OSHA for 28 years and who was the last doctor at Cal/OSHA) is very critical of California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration because when he left California chose to not replace him.  Therefore, Cal/OSHA only has Industrial Hygienists and Compliance Officers for inspections of Hospitals, Medical Centers/Clinics, and Biological Laboratories to name a few.  As Dr. Rose says, “They don’t know what they’re looking for”.
    LarryRoseM.D.,M.P.H.
    http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2008/08/01/18521702.php

    DO STATE AGENCIES UPHOLD THE LAW?

    VIDEO, June 17, 2009 CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE
    DESCRIPTION:  “Injured Worker’s Mother Charges Workers Comp Fraud At CA Fraud Assessment Commission”. Sandi Trend, the mother of injured Agraquest worker David Bell spoke at the California Fraud Assessment Commission in Sacramento on 6/17/2009 about the illness of her son at the Agraquest company in Davis, California. Trend demanded that the California Fraud Commission investigate the cover-up of fraud by the failure of the District Attorney’s to do their job and the role of the owner of Agraquest Pam Marrone in this criminal fraud. She pointed out that the Yolo County DA Daniel Stroski, the Sacramento DA and the Insurance Commission had refused to prosecute Marrone’s fraud. This FAC commission does oversight on California District Attorneys prosecuting fraud and dispenses more than $29 million to District Attorney’s in California to investigate Workers Comp fraud. However they refuse to go after systemic fraud by the insurance industry bosses and those involved in this case. Pam Marrone and Agraquest conspired to violate health and safety regulations and lied about the injuries of employee David Bell to cover-up their liability. The insurance company Liberty Mutual has also fought David Bell’s effort to get his healthcare taken care of. 
The FAC commission which is chaired by William Zachry has itself refused to act and the fact that Zachry is also in insurance executive as Vice President of Risk Management for Safeway Inc.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHlqrUxhtfQ

    TRANSCRIPTION WITH EVIDENTIARY DOCUMENTATION
    http://www.biotechawareness.com/images/11.28.09_6.17.09transcriptwBELLStranscriptINCLUDINGdocs.pdf

    September 9, 2009 CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE
    DESCRIPTION:
    On September 9, 2009 at a meeting of the California Fraud Assessment Commission FAC in Sacramento, Sandi Trend who is the mother of injured biotech worker David Bell charged that the District Attorneys in Yolo County and Sacramento were failing to prosecute fraud by AgraQuest owner Pam Marrone and Liberty Mutual her insurance company. Trend’s son David Bell was sickened at the Davis based company and Marrone and Liberty Mutual refused to provide his healthcare despite evidence that he had over genetically engineered products in his body. She has presented this evidence to both offices as well as agents of the California Department of Insurance.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqZWhu9ANq8

    TRANSCRIPTION WITH EVIDENTIARY DOCUMENTATION
    http://www.biotechawareness.com/images/9.9.09SandiTRANSCRIPTIONwDOCUMENTATION.pdf
    Sandi Trend Interview:
    http://www.biotechawareness.com/images/9.9.09Sandi_interview.pdf

    HAVE UNITED SATES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATIVES BEEN CONTACTED?

    Yes… MANY.