Fedoroff declares war against EPA over GM
Scientists protest EPA proposal to expand biotech regulation
By Stephen Clapp
Friday July 22 2011, Volume: 53 Issue: 19, Food Chemical News
More than 60 members of the National Academy of Sciences, led by outspoken biotech advocate Nina Federoff, have written EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to protest what they describe as a proposal "to further expand [EPA's] regulatory coverage over transgenic crops in a way that cannot be justified on the basis of either scientific evidence or evidence gained over the past several decades..."
"The increased regulatory burdens that would result from this expansion would impose steep barriers to scientific innovation and product development across all sectors of our economy and would not only fail to enhance safety, but would likely prolong reliance on less safe and obsolete practices," the NAS scientists say in a July 5 letter, a copy of which was obtained by Food Chemical News.
The three-page letter, which also was signed by Nobel laureates James Watson and Gunter Blobel, among others, addresses a March 16 Federal Register notice in which EPA proposes a rule to codify data requirements for plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs). "Based on initial reviews of that draft proposal and recent EPA actions associated with biotechnology-derived crops, it is clear that the agency is departing from a science-based regulatory process, walking down a path towards one based on the controversial European ‘precautionary principle' that goes beyond codifying data requirements for substances regulated as PIPs for the past 15 years," the scientists say.
They say they are "particularly troubled by proposals to expand EPA's oversight into areas such as virus resistance and weediness that have been adequately addressed by USDA since 1986. Already, EPA has expanded its oversight into virus resistance, which previously had been the purview of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and which EPA prudently proposed in 1994 to exempt from its regulations. With the draft proposed rules, EPA would further expand its regulations and data demands to other areas historically covered by [APHIS] without the slightest justification based on either data or experience."
The letter adds that it is "most troubling that EPA also is proposing to increase its regulation to cover matters which are still not deemed to be threats even after years of study, such as potential gene transfer from plants to soil microorganisms. In other actions, EPA has expressed its right to regulate plants engineered for altered growth (e.g., by suppression of ethylene production), the same way it regulates synthetic plant growth regulators. The agency does so based on a generous interpretation of the enabling legislation, despite the absence of any scientifically credible hazard."
The scientists warn, in their letter, that EPA's proposed regulatory expansion would: (1) create a duplicative regulatory system for very low risk products; (2) increase costs, reduce efficiency and prolong the review times, thereby discouraging innovation; (3) dramatically increase the hurdles already facing academic institutions and companies attempting to improve so-called minor use or specialty crops; and (4) adversely affect trade in commodities produced by U.S. growers because of the stigma attached to anything characterized as a "pesticide."
Such expanded regulation "would serve only to increase costs, hinder research, undermine the long-term viability of public university research programs, and limit product development from the private sector. The proposed actions would threaten our ability to produce high quality food at an affordable price and feed a growing population," the letter concludes.
Established by President Lincoln in 1863, the NAS is an honorific society composed of scientists who serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering and medicine." New NAS members are elected annually by current members, based on distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. The academy currently has approximately 2,100 members and 380 foreign associates, of whom nearly 200 have won Nobel Prizes.
A prominent geneticist who received the 2006 National Medal of Science, Federoff served as science and technology adviser to the Secretary of State and USAID administrator from 2007 until last year. She was a featured speaker at last year's USDA's Agricultural Outlook Forum (see FCN Feb. 22, 2010, Page 29). Copies of her letter reportedly were sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and other high-ranking officials in the Obama administration and Congress.