House Committee Probes Alleged Over-regulation of Agricultural Biotech

US_Capitol_Building_FlagOn the lazy, hot days of August, when most of us are still reeling from the grueling debt ceiling talks, and as our attention focuses on beaches and barbeques and not the unsexy congressional hearings, the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture decided that August 4 was high time to ‚Äúreview the causes and consequences of government over-regulation of agriculture biotechnology.” As this hearing starts today with an openly pro-industry agenda, it is not difficult to anticipate the tenor of the debate.

During the first set of hearings held in January, which¬†focused on U.S. Department of Agriculture’s regulatory policies for biotech, days before USDA was slated to issue a decision regarding Monsanto’s genetically¬†engineered¬†(GE) alfalfa, Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), declared that “[w]e can all agree that the science has consistently demonstrated¬†agricultural biotechnology safety and that those products have¬†enormous benefits.”¬†¬†This is interesting because not only is there little consensus as to the safety of biotechnology, to say nothing of its benefits, but “science” in fact has not “consistently” backed biotechnology safety. That’s what scientists not on industry pay rolls would tell you. Of course, since Lucas was preaching to a room filled¬†largely¬†with biotech supporters and promoters, who have actively labored to redefine “science” as a branch of the biotech public relations department, little else could be expected. ¬†Helping along the way was USDA which has also been criticized for using “sound science” as a code phrase for rubber stamping approvals of biotech petitions.

Another measure aimed at attacking the current set of biotech regulations, which,¬†ironically, the industry helped to write, has been the introduction earlier this year of the “Expediting Agriculture Through Science Act” or EATS (H.R. 2031), by Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) and co-sponsored by Larry Bucshon (R-IN) and Steven Palazzo (R-MS). ¬†The bill is designed to amend the Plant Protection Act “to expedite the process for approval of certain biotechnology products, and for other purposes.” The bill, if passed, would put the USDA on a tight timeline for analysis of deregulation petitions and failure to make a determination 240 days after the USDA¬†received¬†such a petition would deem the petition approved. ¬†Currently, the EATS bill has been referred to the House Agricultural Committee headed by Frank Lucas.