On Monday the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) released final regulations overhauling the nation’s decrepit regulatory system for genetically engineered (GE) organisms (commonly referred to as GMOs).
The finalized regulations differ little from USDA’s draft regulations proposed last summer. Under the new regime, many GMOs that are currently regulated will no longer be subject to agency oversight, with developers (e.g. chemical companies creating these GMOs, such as Monsanto/Bayer) allowed to “self-determine” the regulatory status of their experimental GE organisms. GMO crops will also not undergo reviews for potential harms, including potential economic harms to farmers.
“With these new regulations, USDA once again ignores the elephant in the room,” said Sylvia Wu, senior attorney at CFS. “The vast majority of GMOs sold and grown today are herbicide-resistant crops, which encourage over-reliance on particular weedkillers and have thus proven instrumental in generating noxious weeds immune to multiple herbicides. Yet USDA pointedly refuses to use its noxious weed authority to address this serious and rapidly growing threat to U.S. agriculture,” she added.
“Not only do these herbicide-resistant crop systems foster noxious weeds,” said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at CFS, “they have caused unprecedented damage to millions of acres of susceptible crops through herbicide drift,” he added. “Herbicide drift with GMOs has been one of the biggest problems in U.S. agriculture over the past three years, destroying crops and livelihoods, yet USDA and its new regulations do nothing to protect farmers from this threat.”
“The new regulations also promise to worsen rather than ameliorate the GMO contamination problems that have made it so difficult for many organic and non-GE farmers to survive in GE crop-dominated agricultural landscapes,” Wu added.
GE crops contaminate organic and conventional crops in various ways, including cross-pollination. Numerous GE contamination episodes have cost farmers billions of dollars in losses, disrupted world trade as export markets reject contaminated U.S. supplies, and even led major importers of U.S. supplies like China to source from U.S. competitors better able to meet the importers’ GMO-related demands.
For more than a decade, CFS has been advocating for USDA to exercise its broad legal authority under the Plant Protection Act to: (1) Regulate all GMOs, whether developed with older or newer techniques, as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences in 2002; (2) Strengthen regulation to prevent GMO contamination of other crops and economic damage to non-GMO farmers; and (3) Regulate herbicide-resistant GMOs to mitigate the extremely serious and growing problem of weeds evolving resistance to multiple herbicides.
CFS delivered these messages in comprehensive, science-based comments as a response to USDA’s proposed regulation in August 2019, and made similar demands together with 46 other public interest and farm groups. Nevertheless, the final regulation continues to suffer from the deficiencies alluded to above, and does not protect farmers, the public, or the environment from the risks posed by GE crops.