What is in this article?:
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has gone before the House Committee on Agriculture and outlined USDA’s efforts to address the complex issues surrounding biotechnology and the agency’s role in regulating it.
Issues must be addressed
"We are also at a crossroads with the Department’s ability to handle the demands of industry and producers. The length of time it takes APHIS to complete the petition process has increased dramatically, and we are engaged in a process improvement process to reduce the amount of time. However, the combination of an increased number and complexity of the petitions combined with the time consuming litigation has really slowed us down. I fear that if we don’t address these issues comprehensively, innovation will be discouraged not encouraged.
"The procedural legal challenges related to GE sugarbeets and GE alfalfa have taken years. APHIS made its initial decision to deregulate GE alfalfa in June 2005. Yet here we are nearly six years later with the process not yet concluded. GE sugar beets were granted non-regulated status in March 2005, and the case is still in litigation in federal court. As these cases continue, the market uncertainty increases, and those involved in agriculture lack sufficient guidance for planning and determining how to react or which products to use.
"The situation needs to be resolved. The legal challenges, and the resulting effects, have created uncertainty for all growers. Growers need to order seed and make planting decisions, but have difficulty when the legal challenges cause so much uncertainty. There are companies and researchers who have devoted significant resources to developing safe products that can help us meet our food security needs, but find themselves fighting in the courts, or waiting to see how a judge’s decision in a separate case will affect them.
"I strongly believe that the decisions regarding these critical issues should not be decided solely by the courts. Litigation creates uncertainty and often results in winners and losers. To help minimize that uncertainty, as well as the other impacts and costs of litigation, USDA is committed to seeking solutions that will end or limit litigation and thereby benefit agriculture as a whole.
"On Dec. 16, 2010, the USDA released its final environmental impact statement (EIS) on the potential environmental effects of granting genetically engineered alfalfa non-regulated status. This is the line of alfalfa that has been genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide commonly known as Roundup.
"The EIS provides an exceptionally comprehensive evaluation and analysis of the potential environmental impacts of granting or denying the petition for non-regulated status. In addition to the draft EIS’s two alternatives of either granting or denying non-regulated status, the final EIS examined a third alternative that was included in the response to ideas presented during the comment period. This third alternative analyzes the impacts of establishing geographic restrictions and isolation distances for GE alfalfa’s production, and it mirrors a healthy and productive conversation between GE, non-GE, and organic interests that is already under way in the industry and that continues to evolve. Every interest engaged in the conversation shares the goal of protecting the right of every producer to grow on their land what they believe and decide is best. And, I believe that many participants have found the discussion important and beneficial.
"Some have questioned the need for this discussion and have suggested USDA is moving away from a science based, rules based decision making process. I want to reassure everyone that USDA will continue to adhere to a scientific, risk based decision making process and that our decisions will continue to be driven by science. I look forward to our discussion here and I hope you share my belief that farmers, ranchers, and growers are in the best position to decide what is best for their operations.
"Again, I would like to thank the Committee for the opportunity to appear before you this morning and I look forward to answering any questions that you may have."