Thursday, July 14, 2011

GMO industry self-regulation

Welcome to the age of GMO industry self-regulation
By Tom Philpott
Mother Jones
July, 14, 2011

USDA: Yes, GMOs cause harm; no, we won’t do anything about it.

As I reported last week [1], the USDA’s recent surprise decision not to regulate genetically modified bluegrass poked yet more holes in an already-porous regime for overseeing GM crops—essentially to the point of regulatory collapse.

There were a few important strands I wasn’t able to wrestle into the story. The main one is an odd letter that USDA secretary Tom Vilksack sent Scotts Miracle-Gro as an addendum to the agency’s response to Scott’s GM bluegrass petition. Vilsack’s letter [2], dated July 1, acknowledges concerns that GM bluegrass will contaminate non-GM bluegrass—that is, that the Roundup Ready gene will move through wind-blown pollen and work its way into non-modified varieties. This is the process known as “gene flow,” and it has already been well-established [3] for GM corn and other modified crops.

Since bluegrass shows up (among other places) in cow pastures, organic dairy and beef farmers face the risk of suddenly having their animals nosh on fields full of a GM crop, which would jeopardize their organic status. As the the secretary put it in his letter:

The USDA recognizes that if this GE variety were to be commercially released, producers wishing to grow non-GE Kentucky bluegrass will likely have concerns related to gene flow between the GE variety and non-GE Kentucky bluegrass. Exporters of Kentucky bluegrass seed, growers of non-GE Kentucky bluegrass seed, and those involved in the use of non-GE Kentucky bluegrass in pastures will likely have concerns about the loss of their ability to meet contractual obligations.

So, Scotts is going to release a product that will potentially cause real and arbitrary harm to market actors. What’s Vilsack’s response?

USDA therefore strongly encourages Scotts to discuss these concerns with various stakeholders during these early stages of research and development of this GE Kentucky bluegrass variety and thereby develop appropriate and effective stewardship measures to minimize commingling and gene flow between GE and non-GE Kentucky bluegrass.

Thus, in lieu of taking action to stop Scotts from doing harm or penalize it if it does, the USDA is encouraging Scotts to talk to stakeholders to avoid harm. In other words, go forth and regulate yourself … please?

Read the entire article (with footnotes)

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