WASHINGTON, D.C. (Jan. 20, 2011)— The U.S. House of Representatives’ Agriculture Committee today held a member forum spearheaded by Chairman Frank D. Lucas (OK) questioning Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) authority in considering deregulation with conditions (Alternative 3 in the Final Environmental Impact Statement) of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (RR) Alfalfa.

In response, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) expressed the organic industry’s strong support for the USDA’s recent proposal to consider the broad economic consequences of unrestricted deregulation of Round-up Ready alfalfa, including the impact on organic agriculture and products in the United States—and believes the department has the authority to do so.

“While organic agriculture has been front and center in this debate, it is beyond organic. Large segments of agriculture have a stake in maintaining the purity of seeds and crops to serve markets and consumers sensitive to the inclusion of genetic engineering,” said Christine Bushway, OTA’s Executive Director and CEO. She added, “Preserving market and farmer choice and agricultural diversity are central to USDA’s mission and the future of rural American livelihoods.”

OTA noted that USDA has taken an important first step in acknowledging organic and identity preserved (IP) agriculture’s right to exist within a policy framework of co-existence. Accordingly, OTA points out, a meaningful co-existence policy framework must take into consideration the interests of all parties. USDA’s ongoing regulatory authority is the only way to ensure these conditions of release are met. The organic sector is an important part of a diverse U.S. agricultural economy—a 26.6- billion-dollar-a-year industry that employs tens of thousands around the country, and helps keep at least 14,540 family farms operating in our rural countryside. Except for 2009, the organic industry has experienced double digit growth—often over 20 percent—annually for over a decade.

OTA believes that meaningful co-existence must protect seed purity for organic farmers’ use, provide compensation to organic farmers in the event of losses due to contamination, and require USDA oversight of GE crop commercialization to protect all U.S. agricultural sectors.

Under current USDA policy, the organic sector now bears the burdens created with inadvertent contamination of organic products from the cultivation of GE crops.

A Record of Decision on whether to deregulate GE alfalfa is expected from USDA soon after Jan.24.

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