USDA's new rules on industrial biotech crops grossly inadequate (7/8/2003)

News Update From The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods

Dear News Update Subscribers,

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued "interim rules" on Wednesday requiring companies growing genetically engineered crops that contain industrial chemicals to get a permit.

To say this latest action by the USDA is inadequate is a gross understatement. We are shocked that the USDA is allowing biotech crops containing industrial chemicals to be grown in the open environment - permit or no permit.

These "interim rules" go into effect immediately, an action that makes us suspect that the USDA realizes there may already be a problem with these industrial chemical crops contaminating the food supply.

Under current USDA rules, crops containing industrial chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs only have to be planted at least one mile away from food crops. The primary crop being used is corn.

Since corn pollen has been shown to travel much further than one mile, the USDA's rules will inevitably lead to industrial chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs contaminating the food supply.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization supports the new rules. The National Food Processors Association and the Grocery Manufacturers of America have expressed concerns that simply requiring a permit is not adequate to protect the food supply.

A spokesman for the National Food Processors Association stated: "We have to have 100 percent assurance. We don't think they're there yet in terms of full oversight and controls and containment."

Frankly, The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods is a bit perplexed as to why the biotech industry wants to take advantage of the lack of oversight the USDA is showing on this matter. We predict that sooner or later cross-pollination from corn will cause industrial chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs to show up in food crops. At that point in time, the biotech industry is going to have a public relations nightmare on their hands. "Shooting themselves in the foot" is an adage that would seem to apply here.

To address the inadequate policies regulating these crops, on July 25th, Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced the "Genetically Engineered Pharmaceutical and Industrial Crop Safety Act of 2003" in the U.S. House of Representatives. This bill has been assigned number H.R. 2921. The Campaign supports this legislation. You can read the bill as a web page or a PDF document at the following links:

Before the end of the year, The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods will be launching a new web site at www.pharmcrops.com. This web site will help educate the public about the risks these pharmaceutical drug and industrial chemical crops pose to human health and the environment. And the web site will provide activist letters and literature to help gather support for the "Genetically Engineered Pharmaceutical and Industrial Crop Safety Act."

Posted below are two articles on the new USDA rules, the first one from Associated Press titled "USDA issues new rules on industrial, biotech crops" and the second one from Reuters titled "USDA Requires Permits for Industrial Biotech Crops."

Craig Winters
Executive Director
The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods

The Campaign
PO Box 55699
Seattle, WA 98155
Tel: 425-771-4049
Fax: 603-825-5841
E-mail: mailto:[email protected]
Web Site: http://www.thecampaign.org

Mission Statement: "To create a national grassroots consumer campaign for the purpose of lobbying Congress and the President to pass legislation that will require the labeling of genetically engineered foods in the United States."

USDA issues new rules on industrial, biotech crops
Associated Press
Wed, Aug. 06, 2003 

WASHINGTON - The Agriculture Department will require biotech companies to get permits for the genetically engineered crops that help make chemical compounds for products like detergent, now that there has been a sharp increase in such crops.

Until now, the department simply asked companies to notify federal officials before planting industrial crops and randomly checked the crops. The department received five such notices in 2003 alone; between 1993 and 2001 it received just 10 notices.

Cindy Smith, a deputy administrator of biotech regulation for the agency, said that the crops will be routinely tested under the new rule to be issued Wednesday.

"The government will inspect these field tests much more often than the typical food and feed field tests, as well as audit company records of those field tests," Smith said.

Each site where a test crop is planted will be inspected seven times - five during the growing season and twice after harvest, Smith said.

The food industry and watchdog groups had complained that there was a lack of oversight.

Smith said the new rule will require industrial crops to be surrounded by an unplanted perimeter of 50 feet to ensure that the plants don't mix with others nearby. Biotech farmers also will have to plant the industrial crops at least one mile away from food crops and dedicate farm equipment to cultivate, maintain and harvest the industrial crops.

The government has allowed most genetically engineered crops to be harvested and mixed into the food supply for humans and animals. Industrial crops must be segregated because they produce chemical compounds for making items like laundry soap and paper - a health risk if found in the food supply.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization said it agrees with the new rule.

The food industry is pressing the government and biotech companies to make sure medicines or industrial products grown in biotech fields stay out of the food chain.

The National Food Processors Association said the department should issue further restrictions.

"We have to have 100 percent assurance," said Tim Willard, a spokesman for the group. "We don't think they're there yet in terms of full oversight and controls and containment."

The department doesn't require biotech firms to publicly disclose what they are growing, arguing it is protected trade information.

Watchdog groups said that this needs to change.

"The public doesn't know what's being grown, where it's being grown, what compounds are being engineered into these plants," says Greg Jaffe, biotech director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the public should be allowed to comment on new crops.

"This is a grand opportunity for the USDA to step up to the plate and take responsibility for the environmental and public health risks of biotechnology crops, to set up a new stronger regulatory system that has more opportunities for public input," Mellon said.

The interim rule goes into effect immediately but expires December 2004. Smith said officials want to gather public comments about it before making it a long-term regulation.


USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service:
USDA Requires Permits for Industrial Biotech Crops
Tue Aug 5, 5:34 PM ET 
 By Randy Fabi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Biotech companies will have to obtain a federal permit before growing experimental plants engineered for industrial purposes like making paper, detergent and minerals, the U.S. Agriculture Department said on Tuesday.

Until now, companies have not been required to get government permission before launching U.S. field tests of gene-spliced plants that are designed to produce industrial components or chemicals.

The change is designed to help protect food crops from accidental contamination, the USDA said. Once a company applies, it will take about four months to issue a permit.

U.S. food industry groups said they supported the new rule, but called for tougher measures to ensure that experimental crops are not mixed with plants grown as food for humans or livestock.

Some companies are experimenting with industrial biotech crops to help manufacture a variety of products including paper, detergent and minerals. These crops are not approved for human or animal food.

The USDA said companies must now obtain a government permit to move, field test or import industrial biotech crops. The department had regulated these crops under a notification process used for plants considered low risk and that had widely known genetic modifications.

The department said companies were beginning to experiment with less familiar biotech traits in these crops.

Meghan Thomas, spokeswoman for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), said requiring permits would help the USDA keep a closer eye on the experimental crops.

"This interim rule strengthens APHIS regulations for field testing of genetically engineered industrial plants in anticipation of an increase in requests to move, import or field test these types of plants," the USDA said.

The USDA said the rule will be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday and will be effective immediately.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents companies developing new gene-spliced products, said it welcomed the new rule.

The Grocery Manufacturers of America and the National Food Processors Association said they supported USDA's action, but that it wasn't enough.

"While it's a step in the right direction, the first and absolute main concern of our companies is maintaining the security of our food supply," said Stephanie Childs, spokeswoman for the trade group.

The food groups urged the Bush administration to impose a strict regulatory program that places safeguards throughout the food system.

In March, the USDA imposed tougher rules on planting industrial and pharmaceutical crops after a Texas biotech firm was accused of mishandling its experimental corn and accidentally contaminated other crops. Privately held ProdiGene Inc. last year agreed to pay about $3 million to settle the matter.


If you would like to comment on this News Update, you can do so at the forum section of our web site at: http://www.thecampaign.org/forums

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