This week, federal agencies are accepting input on how the rules governing genetically engineered (GE) crops should be updated. The expansion of GE crops in the last 20 years has brought hundreds of millions of additional pounds of pesticides into U.S. fields, along with the development of herbicide-resistant "superweeds" and other problems for farmers.
The current policies for GE oversight are clearly failing. But we can safely assume Monsanto and friends are putting serious pressure on policymakers to make the existing rules even weaker, keeping their GE products and pesticides on the market with minimal oversight.
PAN, and a wide range of partner organizations and concerned individuals, are speaking up for stronger rules to protect farmers, community health and the environment.
Business as usual isn't an option
In July, President Obama mandated that the three agencies responsible for GE oversight — the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — re-evaluate their current rules. His Administration's goals, as stated in a White House blog, are:
...to ensure public confidence in the regulatory system and improve the transparency, predictability, coordination, and, ultimately, efficiency of the biotechnology regulatory system.
Monsanto's falling stock, and biotech corporations' heavy investments in defeating GMO labeling initiatives, is evidence of shaky public confidence in GE products and their makers. And that's understandable, since GE crops have consistently failed to deliver on promises of increased yield for farmers or reduced pesticide use.
Instead, these crops are directly responsible for more frequent uses of health-harming pesticides. And non-GE crops are susceptible to damage from pesticides drifting on the air from neighboring fields, but also at risk of cross-pollination. This is of particular concern for organic farmers, who can lose their certification.
Rural communities who live, work and play near agricultural fields are also directly impacted. Pesticides used on GE crops can (and do) drift from where they're applied to homes and schools, exposing local communities to health harms.
RoundUp Ready soy and corn alone have accounted for a dramatic increase in the use of glyphosate — the active ingredient in RoundUp — in the last 20 years. Given that the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently concluded glyphosate is a "probable carcinogen," farming communities now have even more cause for concern.
In short, the agencies in charge of regulating GE crops are tasked with protecting public interest, particularly public health and farmer well-being. Neither are being served by the current system.
Strong, mandatory rules — including independent assessments of on-the-ground impacts for both GE seeds and their accompanying pesticides — are long overdue.