Vilsack Seeks Biotech Compromise

“Complexity surrounds American agriculture today. With the recent announcement of USDA’s final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa and the subsequent meeting to bring together diverse stakeholders for a dialogue, USDA has taken decisive steps toward looking at possible approaches to alfalfa production coexistence that are reasonable and practical,” ag secretary Tom Vilsack wrote in an open letter to stakeholders on Dec. 30.

“These actions have generated tremendous interest in USDA’s and my intentions regarding our ability to objectively regulate GE agricultural products and whether we are focused enough on science. I have tremendous confidence in our existing regulatory system and no doubts about the safety of the products this system has approved and will continue to approve. As a regulatory agency, sound science and decisions based on this science are our priority, and science strongly supports the safety of GE alfalfa. But, agricultural issues are always complex and rarely lend themselves to simple solutions. Therefore, we have an obligation to carefully consider USDA’s 2,300 page EIS, which acknowledges the potential of cross-fertilization to non-GE alfalfa from GE alfalfa — a significant concern for farmers who produce for non-GE markets at home and abroad.”

“The rapid adoption of GE crops has clashed with the rapid expansion of demand for organic and other non-GE products. This clash led to litigation and uncertainty. Such litigation will potentially lead to the courts deciding who gets to farm their way and who will be prevented from doing so.”

Click here to view full letter.

What’s your take on Vilsack’s letter? Leave a comment below.

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3 comments on “Vilsack Seeks Biotech Compromise

  1. This idiot just wrecked the U.S. biotech regulatory system by disregarding science and calling activists in to negotiate terms of deregulation. He has no regulatory authority to do this and is causing all kinds of harm This will CAUSE more lawsuits and will undermine our position with foreign trading partners. This also makes a mockery of the White House position on science-based regulation.

  2. Now check this out:

    US farm minister takes a leaf out of Jairam Ramesh’s books

    Invites activists, biotech critics to shape decision on GM alfalfa.

    G. Chandrashekhar

    Mumbai, Dec. 31

    If you didn’t believe that the world was integrating or that proximity between the US and India was genuine, you would be surprised at what the real world has to offer. What happened in India early in 2010 is happening in the US now.

    And most interestingly, Mr Tom Vilsack, US Agriculture Secretary, has learnt a trick or two from our own Environment Minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh.

    It may be recalled Mr Ramesh went around the country holding public meetings to gauge the mood in the context of clearance granted to genetically-modified (Bt) brinjal by the Government’s own Genetic Engineering Approval Committee.

    In the US, when genetically modified (GM) alfalfa has come up for clearance, the USDA chief has attempted something similar – a non-science approach as many call – by inviting activists and biotech critics to shape the agency’s regulatory decision on a biotech product.

    The Agriculture Secretary’s decision flies in the face of ‘sound science’ that the US policy stands for; and can not only undermine scientific research, but also potentially politicise a system that is supposed to be based on science, many believe.

    According to news reports, the USDA environmental review judged GM alfalfa (called Roundup Ready) as substantially equivalent to other varieties. No special conditions were marked for regulators.

    But, instead of allowing the product into the market after it passed all the regulatory procedure, the USDA has called biotech critics to suggest ways in which the product might be commercialised ‘with conditions’.

    In respect of modified crops, while Europe favoured the ‘precautionary principle’, the US has always stood for ‘sound science’.

    The stand of sound science is at risk of getting diluted, it is feared. A newspaper report pointed that according to people who attended a recent meeting, the USDA Secretary told the assembled groups that science itself is subjective, and that he could have three different groups bring him three different supposedly scientific opinions.

    The root cause of the unfolding scenario seems to be the stand-off between growers of organic crops and growers using technology seeds.

    What’s currently going on in the US sounds much like the Indian drama with science clearly receding into the background and possibly populism taking centre-stage.

    In a telling comment, the Wall Street Journal said, “While it may not be one of the major biotech crops, alfalfa is a regulatory test that could open the gate for similarly politically driven negotiations on non-organic crops from sugar beets to soyabeans.

    If non-science criteria are introduced as considerations for allowing the sale of biotech crops, the effect would be disastrous for the USDA’s regulatory reputation. We hope Secretary Vilsack makes his decision based on science, not politics.”

  3. When are farmers going to realize that whether or not to farm with bio-tech is not their choice?? It simply is not their right to choose how to farm.

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