PANNA: Action Alert: USDA Seeks Comment on GE Policies


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Action Alert: USDA Seeks Comment on GE Policies
May 12, 2000

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recently established Advisory Committee for Agricultural Biotechnology has been given a far-reaching mission by USDA Secretary Dan Glickman. Glickman has asked the Committee to address societal and ecological implications of agricultural biotechnology, as well as the performance of USDA’s various policies and programs related to genetic engineering (GE).

The Committee is currently the only high-level U.S. government committee with both a broad mandate on biotechnology and diverse representation. Its 38 members include scientists, seed company executives and farmers, as well as representatives of groups such as the Organic Farming Research Foundation, Rural Advancement Foundation International and Union of Concerned Scientists. Its work constitutes an important opportunity to raise the social, economic and environmental dimensions of the biotechnology debate and to influence USDA’s future course on this and related issues.

The Committee, authorized for two years, held its first meeting in March in Washington DC. Written comments, which may be submitted at any time, can provide much needed input to help the Advisory Committee for Agricultural Biotechnology prioritize issues. Write to the Committee and tell them to take up the following items:

1. “Terminator” technology and the role of publicly funded agricultural research.

USDA is co-holder of “Terminator” patents covering seed sterilization technologies. This application of genetic engineering is a highly inappropriate expenditure of public research dollars. USDA should develop a policy prohibiting the expenditure of any further public funds on testing and developing this technology. Urge the Committee to investigate how the USDA can withdraw from the three Terminator patents it now holds and from all genetic seed sterilization research.

2. Re-allocation of USDA funding among agricultural technologies.

Secretary Glickman has asked the Committee to make suggestions about USDA budget priorities. Urge the Committee to look for ways to give a fair share of the budget to alternatives such as organic production, whole farm management, biointensive integrated pest management, and non-GE seed breeding.

3. Accountability for gene pollution.

One the major issues posed by the transgenic crop technologies is “genetic pollution,” the inadvertent cross-pollination of neighboring non-GE crops due to pollen drift. A related problem is contamination of seed stocks when transgenic seeds are mingled with non-GE supplies. This is an emerging problem for both organic and those conventional farmers who want to capture non-GE markets in Japan and the European Union. Urge the Committee to investigate ways to place responsibility for genetic pollution on the companies who sell and retain intellectual property interests in GE crops.

4. The Family Farmer–An Endangered Species.

In a food system dominated by transnational conglomerates, family farmers in the U.S. are an endangered species. Urge the Committee to examine USDA biotechnology policy in the context of the industrialization of U.S. agriculture and to examine the relationship between GE technology and corporate consolidation.

5. Rigorous Evaluation of Environmental Risks.

USDA is one of three federal departments responsible for regulating GE crops. USDA’s role is to determine if transgenic crops pose a hazard to the agricultural environment. This review has been notoriously lax, and USDA has rubber-stamped thousands of releases of genetically modified organisms into the environment. Ask the Committee to examine USDA’s regulatory program in detail and recommend ways to strengthen it.

Written comments should be submitted to:

Dr. Schechtman, DFO
Office of the Deputy Sec,
202A Jamie Whitten Federal Building,
12th and Independence Ave, SW, Washington, DC 20250
[email protected]

USDA’s press release announcing the Committee and listing members can be viewed at

Source/contact: National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, P.O. Box 396, Pine Bush, NY 12566; phone (914) 744-8448; fax (914) 744-8477; email [email protected];

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