Foodies mobilize against effort to speed GM approvals
Foodies mobilize against effort to speed GMO approvals
Carolyn Lockheed, Hearst Washington Bureau
Buried in the House Agriculture Committee's farm bill, approved yesterday after a 15-hour markup, is a provision that will speed approval of genetically modified crops. As it stands, USDA has never not approved a GMO crop. Genetically engineered foods enjoy a very weak regulatory regime dating back to Dan Quayle that splits authority among USDA, EPA and FDA, none of which has much power to block them.
California will be a focus of the GMO fight this fall, when voters consider Proposition 37, already provoking a huge fight between the biotech industry and anti-GMO groups. The initiative would require labeling of GMO foods.
But regulatory approvals haven’t come fast enough for the biotech industry, or farmers beset by “superweeds” that have attacked the current generation of GMO crops.
So the House Aggies slipped the GMO provision into their bill, and it probably stands a good chance of surviving if the farm bill itself survives. It's not in the Senate-passed version, but it could easily survive a House-Senate conference. It has already been all but lost amid bigger fights over food stamps.
Anti-GMO groups such as the Center for Food Safety, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund have begun mobilizing against the provision.
The Center for Food Safety sent a letter Tuesday to the committee charging that GMO "riders" would "completely eliminate" some environmental rules governing GMOs, "unreasonably pressure USDA" to approve such crops, "create multiple backdoor GE crop approval mechanisms" that would allow approval of untested bio-traits to enter the food supply, and force USDA to set "allowable levels of GE contamination" in crops and food.
The National Grain and Feed Association, representing grain millers, has also weighed in against the provisions, saying they could have "unintended consequences in domestic and export markets."
Scott Faber, who follows the Hill for Environmental Working Group, which lobbies for more ag conservation and fewer crop subsidies, said both sides of the GMO debate were surprised that House Ag chair Frank Lucas, R-Ok., and top Dem Collin Peterson, D-Minn., put the GMO language in there. "Most of agribusiness was just as surprised as the Center for Food Safety that Lucas and Peterson would choose to use the farm bill to gut USDA review of GMO crops and open this particular Pandora's Box," Faber said.