Farm and Environmental Organizations Rebuke New USDA Regulatory Review

WASHINGTON – Today, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released their official rules revising federal regulation of genetically engineered (GE) organisms. Under the new federal rules, USDA has significantly reduced its regulatory responsibility for GE organisms. Instead, industry developers will be able to “self-determine” whether or not their engineered plant products should be subjected to regulatory review and undergo environmental risk assessment. The “SECURE” rule also exempts new GE seeds from regulatory review if they contain plant-trait combinations previously approved by the agency or if they were produced through gene-editing techniques and are considered unlikely to pose a plant pest risk.

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Pesticide Action Network Senior Scientist, issued the following statement in response to USDA’s SECURE rule release:

USDA’s release of its new GE regulatory framework has dealt a devastating blow to the security of farmers’ livelihoods, the health of their farms and communities, and their ability to build the biodiverse, climate-resilient, and economically robust farming systems that we so urgently need. We’ve already seen how GE seeds engineered to resist herbicides like glyphosate, 2,4-D, and dicamba, are driving widespread pesticide drift that is damaging crops, destroying farm businesses and wreaking havoc across the country. By abdicating the last of its responsibility to protect the public good in favor of corporate profit, USDA is encouraging a flood of new, untested genetically engineered organisms into our rural landscapes, putting farmers, ecosystems and our food supply at risk.

In contrast, USDA’s statement highlighted EPA Administrator Wheeler’s praise for the new regulatory framework, saying “EPA applauds USDA’s efforts to finalize the SECURE rule that will support our nation’s farmers.”

Jim Goodman, organic farmer and National Family Farm Coalition board president, had another take:

USDA could have adopted a regulatory approach that sought to ensure that any deregulated GMOs and their accompanying pesticides would not cause harm, yet their published rule states that public comments focused on concerns around pesticide overuse, habitat and biodiversity destruction, and the creation of more herbicide-resistant weeds were outside the scope of this rulemaking process and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) authority. It is not outside their authority, but like the U.S. government in general, USDA promotes the interests of the biotechnology industry over the best interests of community and environmental health. Why? That’s easy — the biotechnology industry has a high profit margin and knows how to influence government policy and regulatory oversight. Farmers and everyone else will pay the price.

Dana Perls, Friends of the Earth Food and Technology Program Manager, also expressed concern regarding USDA’s SECURE rule:

The USDA’s shameful decision to gut essential safety regulations for genetically engineered organisms puts more power in the hands of corporate agribusiness and removes all transparency. Under no circumstances should polluting industries be allowed to skirt regulations and rubber-stamp themselves as ‘safe.’ Genetically engineered organisms and seeds pose serious environmental risks and further entrench us in an industrial agriculture model that is bad for farmers, consumers and the planet. Now, more than ever, we must prioritize public health and our environment, not corporate agribusiness’ bottom line.

Contacts: Siena Chrisman (National Family Farm Coalition), 917-821-9631, siena@nffc.net ; Anha Kruzic (Pesticide Action Network), 510-927-5379, ahna@panna.org; Erin Jensen (Friends of the Earth), 202-222-0722, ejensen@foe.org

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