Why the USDA Didn’t Need to Give Approval for Genetically-Engineered Grass, Major Implications for Organic Consumers
For those who didn’t see the recent announcement, which shouldn’t be a surprise because our government conveniently released it on the Friday before the July 4th weekend, the USDA said that genetically-engineered grass did not have to go through the normal regulatory approval, like most GE-crops do, and could be grown without any oversight whatsoever.
Yes, genetically-engineered bluegrass developed by Scotts will be coming soon to a lawn near you.
The first thing that popped into my mind, and I am sure that of many others as well, was “Why in the world do we need genetically-engineered grass? Could someone please explain this to me?”
Since this news is certain to raise many eyebrows and concerns with organic consumers, I wanted to synthesize the USDA’s decision not to approve this GE-crop and talk about the massive implications for organic. It is essential information that all organic advocates and supporters need to know about.
As it stands now, the USDA uses very outdated regulations to deal with GMOs (genetically-modified organisms), and crop developers must seek USDA approval if it triggers one of the two following criteria.
1) If plant-pest bacteria was used to insert foreign DNA into the GM-crop. A certain species of bacteria (agrobacterium) is very effective at infecting plant cells with DNA structures, and a majority of GM-crops use this mechanism.
2) If the GM-crop includes snippets of DNA from plant-pest organisms, which include bacteria and viruses. These snippets are used as on switches for the inserted gene and also for other purposes.
So, GM-crops that are either developed with plant-pest bacteria or contain snippets of DNA from plant-pest organisms are regulated by the USDA and require USDA approval before they can be grown and sold commercially.
Scotts was able to circumvent USDA regulations because they avoided using plant-pest organisms in its GE-grass.
This begs the question as to why all GM-crop developers aren’t avoiding the use of plant-pest organisms also so they too could bypass the USDA approval process?
The Answer is:
– Using plant pests, such as bacteria and viruses, is very, very effective.
– It is a major technical hurdle to develop GM-crops without plant pest organisms.
– Companies like having the USDA stamp of approval. It makes the sales and marketing process easier — consumers “think” that they are buying a safe crop.
– The USDA rubber-stamps all GM-crops anyhow and never puts up a fight against any of them. There is NEVER any pushback for GM-crops from the Obama administration and the USDA.
The only pushback comes from organic consumer groups when we have to sue the USDA in court.
The Dangerous Part
Right now, the regulations contain this plant pest trigger but the USDA is currently in the process of revising its regulations when it comes to biotechnology. The regulations should be released later this year and needless to say, the prognosis looks very grim.
According to Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst at The Center for Food Safety, the USDA initially proposed to strengthen the regulations a bit but then changed its stance dramatically in 2008, in the waning days of the Bush administration. This 2008 proposed rule states that crop developers will decide on their own if a GM-crop should be regulated or not.
They could avoid regulation altogether if they decide, strictly speaking, that their crops are not “plant pests” or “noxious weeds”. Very few GM-crops would be regulated under this system.
The proposed system would eliminate the “plant pest” trigger discussed above, which, despite the loophole, still covers most GM-crops.
Hence, under the new regulations, GM-crops could completely avoid all regulatory review and could be field-tested or marketed without the approval or even the knowledge of the USDA. Though firms may continue to seek and obtain a rubber stamp from the FDA, the FDA’s voluntary review process is so weak that it has never been able to assure the safety of a GM-crop.
Bill Freese believes that the USDA is taking this stance because The Center for Food Safety and other groups have had so much success is reversing the USDA’s approval of many GM-crops (alfalfa, sugar beets) in the courts already. So, the USDA is looking for other ways to circumvent legal challenges in the future.
Bottom Line: The USDA is contemplating passing regulations to make it MUCH, MUCH easier for GM-crops to come to market and contaminate organic crops everywhere.
If the USDA approves this new regulatory framework later this year, the organic industry is in major, major trouble.
What Can You Do?
1) Please forward this email to people you know so they can be educated about what is truly going on in Washington D.C.
2) Sign-up for The Center for Food Safety’s newsletter and provide financial support. They are constantly suing the USDA in order to protect the rights of organic consumers.
3) Watch the video HERE where Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of The Center for Food Safety, talks about how “Obama is worse than Bush” when it comes to organic.
Thanks so much for your support.