Friday, November 21, 2008

We Need Strong Regulations On Genetically Engineered Crops

I'm not an expert on genetically engineered crops, but I know this, when something we put into our bodies is not natural, it takes a long time before we know what the effects of that not natural item will be. Things that were once thought perfectly safe (remember how partially hydrogenated oil laden margarine was SO much better than butter for you until it wasn't?) often end up not so safe. 

So when the USDA is considering the rules and regulations when it comes to Genetically Engineered Crops (GE's), it makes sense that they create strong rules that require lots of tests and studies on these crops by impartial parties. Not surprisingly though, the

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.
This information was taken from The True Food Now Network. If you click on the link, you will be taken to a petition that you can be signed and your name will be added and sent to the USDA to let them know that you expect them to act responsibly. Please take a minute to do so. 

Thanks to Derek Markham on Eat.Drink.Better who brought this to my attention this morning.
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