Contamination occurs as USDA finalizes weaker biotech rules
UCS ALERT, December 3 2008
Contact: Emily Robinson, 202-331-5427
GOVERNMENT AGENCIES ANNOUNCE THAT GENETICALLY ENGINEERED COTTONSEED HAS CONTAMINATED FOODSYSTEM
CONTAMINATION OCCURS AS USDA FINALIZES WEAKER BIOTECHNOLOGY RULES
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency announced today that an experimental variety of genetically engineered cottonseed developed by Monsanto has entered the U.S.food
system illegally. According to the agencies, Monsanto harvested the unapproved cottonseed in error and allowed it to mix with approved animal feed that food animals have already eaten. (For the agencies' press release go to: (
This discovery occurs just as the USDA works to finalize rules that would substantially weaken biotechnology oversight before the Bush administration leaves office. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently submitted comments on the proposed rules, lambasting the USDA's rulemaking as "a serious abdication of its responsibility" to regulate agricultural biotechnology and ensure genetically engineered crops are produced and used safely. The proposed rule was published in October and the public comment period ended on November 24.
The proposed rule has several major defects, including:
*The USDA has limited the rule's scope, ensuring that it would cover fewer genetically engineered products over time and leave the department in the dark about biotechnology industry activities.
*The proposed rule would allow potentially dangerous genetically engineered crops to escape regulation.
*The proposed rule would allow the industry to use a nonregulatory petition process to remove genetically engineered organisms from the agency's legal jurisdiction.
*The USDA would not protect the food supply from pharmaceutical and industrial crops (pharma crops). Unlike current regulations, the proposed rule would no longer treat pharma crops as a high-risk category of products and instead would allow the department to place them in low-risk categories subject to less stringent controls.
UCS is recommending that the USDA abandon its proposed pharma-crop oversight and ban the outdoor production of pharma food crops.
In addition to the rule's substantive defects, the USDA has followed an irregular rulemaking process that makes a mockery of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). To meet NEPA requirements, the USDA should have issued a final environmental impact statement (EIS) at the same time it issued the proposed rule. The purpose of the final EIS is to analyze the environmental impacts of regulatory options and respond to the scientific and legal comments received on the draft EIS, which the USDA published last year. Instead, the department plans to publish a final EIS at the same time it issues the final rule.
Like many other rules favoring industry over the public interest, the USDA is rushing the rule to completion before the Bush administration leaves office, depriving the incoming Obama administration of the opportunity to put its stamp on the direction of biotechnology regulation.
UCS recommends that the USDA comply with NEPA even though such a move would extend the rulemaking process beyond the end of the Bush administration. Even if the department elects not to follow that process, UCS recommends that the USDA wait to finalize the rule until after January 20. Given that the proposed rule represents a significant weakening of biotechnology regulation, the Obama administration should have an opportunity to review it. If the final rule is in effect when the Obama administration takes office, UCS recommends that the new administration make revocation, revision and strengthening a top priority.
For USDA's proposed rule, go to: www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/fedregister/BRS_20081009.pdf
For UCS's comments on the proposed rule, go to:
The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading U.S.science-based nonprofit
organization working for a healthy environment and a safer world. Founded in 1969, UCS is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and also has offices in Berkeley, Chicago and Washington, D.C.For more information, go to www.ucsusa.org (