Regulation on genetically-engineered, or GE, crops was first introduced 22 years ago, since which time both public awareness of GE organisms and the area on which they are grown around the world have increased – as has controversy over propounded benefits and potential for harm.
Last year the USDA released a proposal to overhaul the regulation, which has not been reviewed since 1987. But campaigners say the proposal on the table would weaken the USDA’s oversight and put more onus on biotech firms to self-regulate. Because of the interest this generated from stakeholders, the department extended the deadline from November 2008 to March 17 2009, and is planning to hold a public event in April to discuss key concerns. 15,000 comments are understood to have been received to date.
Given the administration change since the proposal was issued, the organizations, which represent farm, food, environmental and public interest groups, have sent a letter to USDA secretary Tom Vilsack, asking that new approvals be blocked until the regulatory situation is clearer – and what they see as “serious deficiencies” are corrected.
The letter was not seen by FoodNavigator-USA.com prior to publication as the organisations are awaiting confirmation of receipt from Vilsack’s office before releasing it publicly.
“Peoples’ right to choose the food they eat and farmers’ right to plant the crops of their choice is at risk with these proposed rules,” said Bill Wenzel, Policy Advisor, Center for Food Safety. “USDA must engage in a new rulemaking process that makes significant revisions to protect the rights and livelihoods of farmers, the public, and the environment.”
The Center for Food Safety claims that stricter oversight of GE crops was “promised” by the USDA more than four years ago, but that “the improvements considered early on have vanished”.
According to the latest figures from the Worldwatch Institute, the total global area of genetically engineered crops increased 12 percent in 2007 compared to the previous year, bringing total land area up to 114.3million hectares. The US accounts for half of this.