Tilth Producers signs on to GE regulation letter

Tilth Producers has joined the National Organic Coalition, Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) USA, the Organic Trade Association, and many others in signing on to the letter below asking Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for tougher regulations on genetically engineered crops. Stay tuned for more info soon on how you can make your voice heard on GE crops for World Food Day!

The Honorable Thomas Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250

Re: Responsible Regulation of Genetically Engineered Crops

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

On behalf of the undersigned organizations that represent American farmers, consumers, and retailers, we ask you to implement your authority under the Plant Protection Act of 2000 (PPA) to fully protect the public health, the environment, and the economic interests of the United States. This authority should be implemented through responsible, fair, and comprehensive regulations to help prevent further damage to lucrative and important U.S. and international markets, to ensure farmer profitability and rural economic development, and to support environmental protection and consumer choice.

The USDA is currently relying on biotechnology regulations first established almost twenty-five years ago in 1987. Since then, the use of genetically engineered (GE) crops has become widespread, and GE crops and associated traits have become more complex. In 2000, Congress passed the PPA, recognizing the need for a more robust and modern regulatory framework governing the assessment and release of GE crops into the environment and the food supply. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has been working on regulations to implement the PPA since 2004. However, to date the Agency has yet to issue these critical regulations.

We support the promulgation of a comprehensive rule implementing the PPA that uses the statute’s broad statutory authority in a responsible, balanced way. The needed rule must:

1. Regulate all GE crops.

APHIS must retain oversight of genetically engineered crops as the technology progresses. While not perfect, process-based regulations offer the best way to ensure responsible control of an ever-changing technology. There simply is not the knowledge to determine which crops are safe (and thus can be exempted from regulation) prior to a safety review. In addition, it has become clear that familiar GE crops once regarded as unobjectionable are having serious, unforeseen impacts that require proper assessment. As noted by the National Academy of Sciences in its 2002 report, The Environmental Effects of Transgenic Plants: Scope and Adequacy of Regulation, the use of genetic engineering as the trigger for regulation does not conflict with a commitment to a case-by-case, risk-based approach to regulation of this technology.

2. Broadly interpret USDA’s “noxious weed” authority under the PPA.

APHIS should broadly interpret the PPA’s noxious weed authority to fully mitigate or prevent all adverse effects of GE crops on agriculture, the environment, and public health, with specific focus on the economic harms from GE contamination, herbicide-resistant weeds, threats to public health, and the protection of biodiversity.

3. Implement a two-tiered permitting system.

APHIS should clarify that it retains authority to monitor and regulate GE crops throughout the field-testing phase and after commercialization so that it can address adverse impacts and contamination issues as they emerge. APHIS should require permits both for field trials and commercial cultivation of GE crops. Both kinds of permits should be conditioned on the appropriate compensation of growers whose crops are contaminated through violation of permit requirements.

4. Not incorporate the Low Level Presence policy.

APHIS’ Low Level Presence (LLP) policy is unscientific and fatally flawed. It allows unlimited levels of experimental GE crop material contaminating commercial food, feed, or seed to be deemed “non-actionable,” rendering the “low-level” appellation meaningless. The policy would also undermine prospects for co-existence by reducing the incentives of GE crop field-trial operators to prevent contamination in the first place. For coexistence to be feasible, the regulations must “establish scientifically valid and proven isolation and containment distances,” as mandated in the 2008 Farm Bill (Sec. 10204(C)(1)(c)). The regulations must also clarify that it is the responsibility of the developer and the grower of GE crops to establish and maintain appropriate isolation distances and other gene containment measures to minimize the potential for contamination.

5. Prohibit the introduction of pharmaceutical and industrial GE crops.

APHIS should use its noxious weed authority to prohibit the outdoor cultivation of plants engineered as biofactories for the production of drugs or industrial chemicals, and all cultivation of any pharmaceutical or industrial food crops. These crops produce compounds that may pose risks to human health and the environment, and in the event of inadvertent contamination can lead to huge costs throughout the supply chain.

6. Apply sound science to the regulation of GE crops.

In the past, APHIS has relied too heavily on applicant-provided research and unreliable information from biotech industry sources. In some cases, APHIS has given such information greater credence than conflicting data and analyses from its own sister agencies, such as the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Agricultural Research Service. Sound scientific assessment of the use, risks, and impacts of genetically engineered crops is impossible without solid, unbiased data. APHIS should not cherry-pick science but instead employ sound scientific principles, as required under the Plant Protection Act and the Obama Administration’s Memorandum on Scientific Integrity. The Memorandum stipulates that “[s]cience and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration,” with the “highest level of integrity in all aspects of the executive branch’s involvement with scientific and technological issues.”

We respectfully urge you to implement our recommendations as you move to promulgate final comprehensive rules implementing the PPA. This is a pivotal moment. Unless these new rules are strong and protective, the coming generation of genetically engineered crops will put at risk our health, our environment, and some of the most promising sectors of our agricultural economy.

Sincerely,

Tilth Producers of Washington