If you thought that the regulatory framework for regulating genetically engineered crops in the United States was weak before, the new proposed changes in Sections 10011-10014 of the Â House Agriculture Committeeâ€™s discussion draft of the 2012 Farm Bill, will practically eviscerate the oversight function of the U.S. Department ofÂ AgricultureÂ (USDA).
Earlier this month, consumer advocate group, Center for Food Safety (CFS), wrote a letter to the Chair andÂ RankingÂ Member of the House Committee on Agriculture, urging Congress to strike provisions which will create “serious risks to farmers, the environment and public health Â by forcing the Â rushed commercialization of GE crops and eliminating meaningful review of their impact.” CFS identified these provisions as follows:
- Outlaw any review of GE cropsâ€™ impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),Â the Endangered Species Act (ESA), or any other environmental law, or by any agency other thanÂ USDA. Â For example, harm to protected species could occur without any input from expertÂ wildlife agencies.
- Prohibit other agencies from offering expert input in the review process and instead limit review toÂ solely USDA under the Plant Protection Act. Â However, meaningful review would likely be eliminated by this rider,Â as USDAâ€™s analysis of potential harmful impacts is barred from informing any approval decision.Â The agency is also barred from using its broader statutory authority granted in the PPA of 2000 andÂ instead is limited to its old 1957 Federal Plant Pest Act authority.
- Force the backdoor approval of GE crops, even if USDA has not reviewed and approved them,Â through unreasonably short deadlines, which, if not met by the agency, would default to immediateÂ approval and commercialization. Â The provisions would also bar any agency funds from being spentÂ on impacts analysis beyond the ridersâ€™ narrow and time-forced approval.
- Codify a dangerous national policy of allowing transgenic contamination in crops and foods, riskingÂ loss of GE-sensitive domestic and export markets and loss of biodiversity.
- Limit EPAâ€™s oversight of biotech crops engineered to produce or contain a pesticide by forcing theÂ agency to choose the least burdensome choice for industry, regardless of environmentalÂ consequences.
Given the amount of attention paid to Congress by members of agricultural biotech industry, these measures, which no doubt respond to industry complaints about the process that the industryÂ helped to establish in the first instance, surprise fewÂ peopleÂ by now. But someone has to send a memo to the industry PR machine telling it to stop trying to convince the public that GM foods are strictly regulated byÂ government. That argument was not true before and it certainly would not be true if these measures are passed.