USDA wants to hear from you: How Should GMO Seeds Be Regulated?

Mark Keating's picture

By Mark Keating, OFRF Policy Consultant

           USDA is currently requesting public comment on two milestone decisions involving GMO seeds and your voice is needed if we are to reject the status quo and build an organic future for American agriculture. The cutoff periods for public comment are approaching February 24 and March 4.  For too long, USDA has ignored sound science and public opinion by sanctioning the unrestricted release of GMO seeds and their leniency has produced devastating consequences for the environment, rural communities and family farmers.

            First, until February 24, USDA is accepting comment on an environmental impact statement (EIS),which would authorize unrestricted planting of two corn varieties and one soybean that have been genetically engineered to tolerate applications of the herbicide 2,4-D.  One of the compounds used to create the defoliant Agent Orange, 2,4-D has been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, Parkinson’s disease and reproductive problems. Pesticide formulations containing 2,4-D are especially dangerous because of their tendency to vaporize and drift, creating additional exposure risks for neighboring crops and communities.  With what we know about its proven risks, it’s hard to believe that increasing 2,4-D use by an estimated 100 million pounds a year by 2019 would be an option, but USDA is on the verge of doing so.  If you’d like to submit individual comments, follow this link to Docket No. APHIS-2013-0042.   before February 24 and tell USDA that its current EIS is inadequate and that it should not approve 2,4-D tolerant seeds for planting. Click here for good comment language.

          Second, until March 4,USDA is seeking input on a broader set of policy recommendations developed by an expert committee on the concept of “coexistence”.  USDA uses this term to describe the working relationship between farmers raising organic and non-GMO crops and farmers who do plant GMO varieties.  More specifically, “coexistence” refers to the multiple legal and commercial issues, which have arisen as genetic contamination from GMO crops has spread to organic and other non-GMO fields.

            To date, organic and other farmers who raise non-GMO crops have borne almost all of the burden for preventing unwanted genetic contamination, and then paid the price when those efforts fell short.  For example, they have established buffers and delayed planting to reduce the risk of cross-pollination yet still had their crops rejected by buyers for trace levels of genetic contamination which drifted in on GMO pollen.  Many of these farmers simply gave up growing important cash crops such as canola when genetic contamination proved unavoidable.

           USDA appointed the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology in the 21st Century (AC 21) to explore what types of compensation mechanisms, if any, could address the economic losses suffered by farmers due to genetic contamination of their crops.  Unfortunately, by relying exclusively on voluntary measures to address the problem, the AC 21’s recommendations fall far short of what our farmers need and deserve.   The Organic Seed Alliance provides a more comprehensive summary of the issues here that will enable you to comment before the March 4 deadline. Submit comments electronically by following this link to Docket No. APHIS-2013-0047.

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