In an open letter to stakeholders Thursday, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack called for “a new paradigm of coexistence and cooperation” for both genetically engineered and non-GE agricultural approaches.
The letter comes just two weeks after the U.S. Department of Agriculture completed its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa, the status of which has been caught in litigation since 2005.
Farmers and the Center for Food Safety sued the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for deregulating the alfalfa without fully studying its impacts. The groups won a favorable ruling, which was upheld in appellate court, that barred GE alfalfa until the government adequately studied whether it could contaminate conventional and organic crops. Monsanto took the matter to the Supreme Court, which voted 7-1 to lift the ban, but also agreed that an impact statement was required.
“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,” wrote Vilsack in the letter. “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.”
Vilsack also lamented that agriculture issues are “always complex” as he called for approaches for both GE and non-GE alfalfa production that are “reasonable and practical.”
“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,” wrote Vilsack, adding that the fight between GE and non-GE alfalfa should not be a zero sum equation.
“Surely, there is a better way, a solution that acknowledges agriculture’s complexity, while celebrating and promoting its diversity. By continuing to bring stakeholders together in an attempt to find common ground where the balanced interests of all sides could be advanced, we at USDA are striving to lead an effort to forge a new paradigm based on coexistence and cooperation,” he added. “If successful, this effort can ensure that all forms of agriculture thrive so that food can remain abundant, affordable, and safe.”