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Biotech Riders in Proposed Farm Bill Stir Controversy

It was a battle over agricultural biotechnology that didn’t happen — at least not in the House Agriculture Committee’s July 11 markup of its version of the proposed new Farm Bill.

After a long day of discussing, and then voting on, more than 100 proposed amendments, the wearied-looking legislators finished the markup without addressing some controversial biotech riders tucked into Title X: Horticulture.

But that doesn’t mean heated debate over these riders won’t flare up as the Farm Bill makes its hopeful way toward approval in September.

Critics of agricultural biotechnology say that genetically engineered crops can be harmful to human health and to the environment. They point to warnings from an array of scientists that the artificial insertion of genetic material into plants could cause significant problems such as an increase in the levels of known toxicants in food, the introduction of new toxicants or new allergies, and the reduction of the nutritional value of food.

On the other side of the health divide, the American Medical Association’s House of Delegates recently reaffirmed its support of biotechnology in the production of safe, nutritious food. AMA also pointed to the continuing validity of federal regulation, saying that food produced through biotechnology poses no more risk than food produced in conventional ways.

In an effort to boost the public’s understanding of this new way of producing food, the International Food Information Council Foundation has released five videos featuring leading physicians in the fields of pediatrics, food allery and obstetrics who answer frequently asked questions about food biotechnology.

In 1992, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration established a policy declaring that there is no substantial or material difference between genetically engineered foods and foods that haven’t been genetically engineered.

Even so, many consumers are wary, if not downright opposed, to this new technology.

In a July 12 press release, the Center for Food Safety vowed to continue its strong opposition to the bill’s attachments, describing them as “irresponsible and unnecessary changes to USDA regulations” that would severely weaken the agency’s oversight of genetically engineered crops, and thus “fundamentally erode science-based review.”

Remaining optimistic, the Center expects the riders to be eliminated on the House floor when the full House considers the draft version of the Farm Bill, or when the House and Senate bills go to conference.

On the other side of the biotech fence, Karen Batra, spokesperson for Biotechnology Industry Organization, BIO, told Food Safety News that the organization doesn’t want to speculate on how Congress will vote on a final package, “but we are pleased with the bipartisan support shown in the committee for clarifying the US regulatory system for ag biotech.”

The fact that the provisions remain in the proposed bill is good news, she said, because they offer common-sense modifications that would benefit an approval system that has become “duplicative, unpredictable and costly.”

Summary of the Riders

According to the summary of the proposed bill, the biotechnology provisions in Title 10 reiterate that the USDA is authorized to regulate the introduction and cultivation of products of biotechnology if the products pose a plant pest risk.

When a petition for deregulation of a biotech variety is received, a comprehensive plant pest risk assessment is conducted. Once it is determined that the product poses no plant pest risk, the authority to regulate the product under the Plant Protection Act ceases and a final decision is made to deregulate the product.

Recent petitions for deregulation have taken several years, though the actual review takes only weeks, and USDA regulation provides for a maximum limit of 180 days.

The current framework of the Plant Protection Act, which is intended to ensure the safety of biotechnology crop reviews, has been impeded by numerous procedural lawsuits. Many of these lawsuits have been proven to include frivolous claims and have been based on extraneous statutes that conflict with USDA’s statutory mandate to regulate based on plant pest risk.

These challenges have strained the limited resources of the USDA, imposed millions of dollars in unnecessary costs on taxpayers and hundreds of millions of dollars in lost opportunity costs on our national economy, and endangered the United States’ leadership role in this new and beneficial field of science.

Agricultural biotechnology is an evolutionary technology with revolutionary potential to feed an ever-increasing world population, while enhancing environmental stewardship.

In conclusion, says the summary, the provisions “will ensure that the transparent, comprehensive and scientifically-based review of these products occurs in a timeframe that facilitates continued innovation and adaptation of new tools to meet the challenges of food security.”

Different Sides of the Fence

But that’s not the way opponents of the proposed biotech riders see it. In a July 10 letter to leaders of the House Agriculture Committee, the Center for Food Safety teamed up with 39 other organizations and businesses to warn that the proposed provisions would create serious risks to farmers, the environment and public health by forcing the rushed commercialization of GE crops and eliminating meaningful review of their impacts. The letter also warns that the provisions could possibly allow certain levels of “transgenic pollution.”

“Fundamentally, Congress should not attempt to alter the USDA’s regulatory framework for GE crops in such a one-sided and non-transparent manner,” says the letter. “The new deadlines and diminished review process will make a mockery of USDA’s GE crop reviews, transforming it into a facade of ‘rubber stamp’ approval, at the urging of the chemical industry. The only gain from these measures will be to the profits of the pesticide industry to the detriment of conventional and organic farmers and businesses, as well as the environment.”

In an interview with Food Safety News after the House Agriculture Committee had completed its markup of the proposed draft of the Farm Bill, Colin O’Neil, regulatory policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, said the Center remains strongly opposed to what he calls “the irresponsible riders” because they would perilously weaken the USDA’s oversight of genetically engineered crops and fundamentally erode their science-based review.

“This is pesticide-promoting politics at its worst,” he said, referring to biotech crops that have been engineered to survive applications of pesticides designed to kill pests and weeds, thereby allowing pesticides to be applied to them.

He also warned that that “these hidden biotech riders would eliminate the very safeguards that protect American farmers and our food supply.”

In a July 11 press release after the markup, the Center warned that the riders could have these potential outcomes:

- Completely eliminate the critical roles of our most important environmental laws;

- Unreasonably pressure USDA with impossible deadlines for analysis and decision, while withholding funds to conduct environmental reviews;

- Create multiple backdoor GE crop approval mechanisms that would allow the premature commercialization of untested biotech traits to enter our food system;

- Limit the regulatory authority of other agencies, such as EPA; and

- Force the USDA to adopt a controversial policy of allowable levels of GE contamination in crops and foods.  (The provision’s language requests the USDA to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency to submit a report on measures taken, and proposed to be taken, to develop and implement a cohesive national policy for the low-level presence of agronomic biotechnology material in crops, including grain and other commodity crops, for food, feed and processing.)

The National Grain and Feed Association, whose members include Archer Daniels Midland Company and Cargill, Inc., have also expressed concern about the riders, pointing to the possibility of unintended consequences in domestic and export markets.

Many export markets prohibit even minute traces of genetically modified organisms and will refuse shipments of any food that contains them. And on the organic front, no genetically modified organisms are allowed in foods bearing USDA’s organic label.

“Americans want our federal agencies to do a thorough job of evaluating GE crops and GE foods before they are introduced into the marketplace, our stores and our homes,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Stonyfield, which produces organic yogurts, in a July 10 PR Newswire press release. “Rushing the approval of GE crops before they can be fully evaluated endangers our families.”

Taking a markedly different stance on this issue, BIO, along with seven agricultural groups, among them the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Agricultural Retailers Association, and the National Corn Growers Association, sent a July 6 letter to House Agriculture Committee leaders praising the proposed provisions.

“With more than 25 years of regulatory experience and not a single documented incident of actual harm to human health or the environment, it is an opportune time to reduce regulatory burdens, where appropriate, redirect agency resources, and clarify regulatory roles and responsibilities,” says the letter.

Looking to the future, the letter says that the regulatory improvements for agricultural biotechnology will  grow a “modern 21st Century bioeconomy.” And it points to the Obama Administration’s National Bioeconomy Blueprint, which suggests that to further grow the nation’s bioeconomy, federal agencies must “develop and reform regulations to reduce barriers, increase the speed and predictability of regulatory processes, and reduce costs while protecting human and environmental health.”

BIO’s Batra told Food Safety News that it’s important to know that the proposed riders would in no way reduce the regulation of biotech crops.

“It clarifies the roles of the three government agencies — USDA, the Food and Drug Administration, EPA — under the Coordinated Framework so that they focus on the necessary functions and expertise within their authority without duplicating,” she said.

But O’Neil, policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, said that the Center is determined to get the riders out of the proposed Farm Bill.

“This type of attack on our nation’s farmers and food supply should not stand, and we call on Congress to make sure that it does not.”

© Food Safety News
  • Hypocrisy Now!

    Rise up Luddites, rise up! This insidious process of advancing civilization must be halted, it must be reversed. Hup, two, three, four, hup, hup!!!
    All right-thinking technophobes must rise up and smash the machinery of progress wherever it is found. Fire up your personal microcomputers and your smartphones, Luddite ladies, and give Congress a flaming piece of your mind, such as it is.
    Hypocrisy Now!

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    “Science and time have shown that GE crops cause significant harm to agriculture and the environment. The overwhelming majority of these novel crops are engineered to be resistant to herbicides, such as Monsanto’s Roundup, and have dramatically increased overall herbicide use by 382 million lbs. This spike has, in turn, caused an epidemic scourge of herbicide-resistant superweeds. And they have caused repeated transgenic contamination of non-biotech crop, costing farmers and businesses billions of dollars, as well as permanent contamination of the wild.
    Federal courts have ruled for farmers, businesses and public interest plaintiffs numerous times, holding that USDA had violated federal law when approving GE crops by failing to adequately consider and regulate their harms. But rather than address these continued failures, the chemical industry’s allies in Congress are trying to change the law via the Farm Bill. The logic being: if you can’t win the game, change the rules.”
    Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-kimbrell/will-congress-let-monsant_b_1663890.html

  • David

    What’s all the fuss about? If this GMO stuff ever really justifies labeling the intelligent thing for congress and USDA to do would be to permit a label stating “contains no ingredients derived from GMOs” then set up a strict testing and enforcement program to make honest technophobes of all purveyors of the product (not a cheesy good ‘ol boy self-policing fall-through-the-cracks daisy chain clique like organic certification and inspection rackets). But there is no need to label anything when the stuff is safe and there already are choices out there: organic is supposed to be GMO free and halal/kosher could do so if they choose. If it really was important Muslims and Jews would have outlawed it for their followers from the start, but they haven’t so it can’t be a serious threat to anybody. Too bad Congress has to waste time countering fanatic foodie taliban style intrusion into our lives.

  • Ted

    Andrew Kimbrell and the Center for Food Safety?
    Oh yeah, we’ve heard all about them…
    http://activistcash.com/organization_overview.cfm/o/11-center-for-food-safety
    Not exactly unbiased science-based Samaritans, these pushy fanatics.

  • Nathan

    Peoples fear of GMOs should make them choose organic more often, correct? That is why I don’t understand the OTA opposition to organic.

  • Jon

    The Biotech Corporations are the worst sort of Hypocrite — using subterfuge and Big Bucks power politics to obviate consumer choice in the marketplace — by negating any honest labeling so consumers can make a real choice. All in the name of “feeding the world” er… rather, their own fat bottom line.
    And these In-the-Dead-of Night-Riders escalate things by further handcuffing Government oversight — and negating Judicial review.
    With the corporate takeover over of Government’s We The People Democracy — Fascism is alive and growing rampantly in America…

  • Ted

    It’s a conspiracy!
    You know, like how fascists and dead night riders and biotech corporations and democracy and handcuffed fat bottom lines and the judicial getting negative reviews conspire to obviate subterfuge in rampant America to “feed the world” too much choice in the marketplace and stuff.
    That’s why it is always best to wear your tinfoil hat down over your ears with the chinstrap snugged up good and tight. Sure, you risk cutting off circulation to your brain but who uses their brain when you’re merely congratulating one another for emoting nonsense? Why, any silly goose knows all that. Into the fray! Step off smartly now ladies. Hup, two, three, four, hup, hup!!!
    Fools.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    ActivistCash is a Richard Berman front group paid for by corporate donors wanting to undermine non-profits fighting for consumer and other rights.
    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ActivistCash.com

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    For more on ActivistCash, this page several of the many different non-profits targeted by the corporate front:
    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=A_visit_to_the_ActivistCash.com_web_site

  • Ted

    Rick Berman and ActivistCash wouldn’t have to dedicate themselves to exposing the creepy underworld of 501-C-3 and 501-C-4 propaganda mills if those subversive activist cults were transparent, if they practiced fair disclosure. Thank goodness there is someone looking out for the ordinary person’s interest amidst the tidal wave of deliberate misinformation blowing out from these deceptively named activist cults like Center for Food Safety and their paid shills.
    Learn more about the organized campaign to misinform, mislead and misuse you:
    http://www.consumerfreedom.com/
    These guys are the real deal, working to preserve the freedom of consumer choice for me and for you. Yeah, it’s thankless work, but someone has to do it. And thank goodness they do!

  • DJ

    If GMO foods are so safe, then why are biotech companies spending mega-millions of dollars to fight against labels on GM foods. And, why were they never labeled to begin with, when first put on the market. What do they know, that they don’t want the rest of us to know. GMOs were not tested, not tracked for adverse health effects, not labeled, but dumped into our food supply. And if they make us sick, our complaints can be ignored, because we can’t prove we ate them because they are not labeled. Works great for the biotech bullies.

  • james

    Consumer Freedom dot org — Laugh Out Loud!!! Look at all the bucks they roll in as shills for Big Biz!!!

  • Hotshot

    I wish groups like the Center for Food Safety would quit pretending to care about farmer safety, and admit that what they are concerned about is organic industry profits, or preventing Monsanto profits, or gaining subscribers to pay their own paychecks.
    DJ: “And if they make us sick, our complaints can be ignored, because we can’t prove we ate them because they are not labeled.”
    Why not? According to the anti-GMO propagandists, it should be easy to isolate all that GMO poison permeating your body.
    Check out this change of heart by Greenpeace co-founder: http://www.biotech-now.org/food-and-agriculture/2012/02/greenpeace-founder-biotech-opposition-is-crime-against-humanity

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    We missed one late night amendment, inserted by Rep. King from Iowa:
    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-farm-bill-animal-safety-20120713,0,4895609.story
    Basically this law would preclude any state law related to agriculture, whereby it impacts growers, producers outside of the state. Yes, it impacts on animal welfare, but it also impacts on food safety (state laws related to GMO labeling come to mind).
    Unbelievable.

  • Donnie

    I have Celiac and severe food allergies, and I need to know what I am eating, for my own health and safety. So I have to avoid adulterated GMOs, and eat real foods. There is no way of knowing what was used to genetically modify the foods, because the biotech companies won’t allow us to know. They created mistrust, because of their secrecy. That makes us think that they have something to hide. Actually, they probably do have plenty they keep from us. Obviously, we are not ever likely to know the truth about genetic engineering, so I try to avoid anything that might contain GMOs as much as possible. Hard to do without labels.

  • SeaKat

    And and outfit called Food Safety is just fine with the corporate take over of our food?
    Genetically modified food is the largest human experiment on the planet.
    Are you fine with being a human guinea pig?

  • James

    Patrick Moore –
    the so-called “greenpeace co-founder”‘s support of Biotech and corporate industrialised agriculture has finally gotten him what he’s been looking for all along — personal press, ego enhancement, easy shill work and the big bucks he was looking for all along…. (that was never part of the deal within the Greenpeace culture)
    And Greenpeace was Very happy to help him go………..

  • Ted

    And it seems the diversions in this thread are now nearly complete — all that remains is a final bit of enraged taunting.
    We have paid NOFA shill “James” (Jed/Jem/Jon/Joanie/…/Steve) lashing out with frustration — childishly calling Patrick Moore a “shill”….the warped tin pot calling the cast iron kettle black — when, in fact, Moore is a reformed shill — (big difference).
    See Steve, notice how Patrick Moore demonstrates there can be recovery from workaday fanaticism….there is hope….there can be an afterlife for shameless agenda whores — maybe even for NOFA propagandists….if they can pry their heads out long enough to see the light of reason. Granted, that would require the Jaws of Life but it would be worth it — maybe give your local fire department a call….they pry people out of the wreckage of their own defiant misjudgement all the time — you know….like drunk drivers and road-raging imbeciles. It ought to work for loopy anti-agriculture industry haters too.
    Now all that’s left to complete the thread is for Steve to whine and call me a “troll”….(his equivalent of crying “uncle” when he’s run out of propaganda bombs to hurl). C’mon, vent a little more — lay your favorite “troll” slur on me….you know you want to!
    And all this off-topic tantrum pitching merely because Congress has the good sense to dismiss a silly wasteful idea to mandate meaningless food labels. So juvenile.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    More on Patrick Moore and his profiting.
    ‘He has worked for the mining industry, the logging industry, PVC manufacturers, the nuclear industry and in defence of biotechnology. In October 2008, Greenpeace issued a statement distancing itself from Moore, saying he “exploits long gone ties with Greenpeace to sell himself as a speaker and pro-corporate spokesperson, usually taking positions that Greenpeace opposes.”‘
    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Patrick_Moore
    Some people sell out, but this guy…he sold out big.

  • Ted

    Who is Greenpeace, really? (fair warning: hold your nose to hold onto your lunch when reviewing these factual reviews)
    http://activistcash.com/organization_overview.cfm/o/131-greenpeace
    http://www.consumerfreedom.com/2011/09/4519-greenpeace-40-years-of-anti-science/
    And who is Patrick Moore?
    http://www.consumerfreedom.com/2011/02/4375-patrick-moores-environmental-epiphany/
    Hardly a “sell out”, Moore did some soul searching, wised up and stopped believing his own BS. This sort of thing seldom happens. Moore evidently had at least the vestige of a soul to search, a rare and potentially career ending liability for callous self-interested professional hate mongers.
    Moore is a brave man, coming clean and speaking truth to dangerous out-of-control enviro-extremists. We need more honest men like him. There have been others:
    Michael Specter is a recovered whacko
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/05/books/05book.html
    http://www.michaelspecter.com/2009/11/boston-globe-review-of-denialism-nov-15-2009/
    Another one-day-at-a-time recovering goofball is Michael Shermer
    http://www.skepdic.com/refuge/weird.html
    So, it’s not impossible to grow up and get one’s mind straightened out…but the miracle occurs far too seldom considering the number of clueless anti-science bomb throwers running around loose among us.

  • Jonathan

    Sounds like Patrick Moore is some kind of “Ted” corporate skill hero — ahhh birds of a feather flock together…

  • Hotshot

    @Donnie: “Obviously, we are not ever likely to know the truth about genetic engineering, so I try to avoid anything that might contain GMOs as much as possible. Hard to do without labels.”
    Actually, it is quite easy, just buy only products that say “Certified Organic.” They do not contain GMOs if produced in the US. That makes much more sense than requiring the great majority of food products to carry a label that only serves as a marketing tool for the organic industry and that would raise the cost of food for the great majority of Americans that just don’t worry about GMOs unless specifically asked biased questions.

  • Paul Eckerson

    Not all herbicides are not the same. Some are very stable and stay in the environment for ages. Roundup has been a blessing as it decomposes in days after application. You won’t find it in trace amounts in food or the environment like many of the old herbicides. Without it crops production would be drastically reduced to the point of not being profitable. Just be ready for really high food prices or more debt from subsidizing farming or more taxes to support food production.