WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 16, 2010)—The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) today released its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) concerning the potential impacts of deregulating genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa. USDA was required to halt the deregulation of GE Alfalfa pending the completion of a thorough review of the environmental impacts of the deregulation. Besides being the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court case requiring the review, USDA received comments from the public on the draft EIS, with many demanding a review of the impacts USDA had not previously considered.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has opposed unconditional deregulation, insisting that policy decisions regarding GE regulation should shift the costs associated with enabling meaningful co-existence from the organic and non-GE sectors to the patent holders of the GE crops, protect organic seed crops, and assure good implementation of requirements to avoid contamination in the first place.

USDA was required to halt the deregulation of GE Alfalfa pending the completion of a thorough review of the environmental impacts of the deregulation

“Today’s announcement does show a shift in policy at USDA regarding GE deregulation in that one option under consideration includes mandated agricultural practices, isolation distances and geographic restrictions to reduce the likelihood of contamination. OTA recognizes this as an important first step  and looks forward to all stakeholders—USDA, all sectors of agriculture, NGOs and consumer groups—taking part in policy development discussions to protect all producers from market losses due to unrestricted deregulation of GE crops and products,” said Christine Bushway, OTA’s Executive Director and CEO.

“Contamination has real economic consequence to organic farms and product manufacturers. GE-contaminated organic crops and products lose their market value, and the costs to prevent contamination and testing costs to verify that crops and products are free of such contamination are all currently borne by the organic industry solely,” stated Bushway. “Our consumers simply will not accept GE-contaminated products. That is, in fact, one of the major reasons that they buy USDA certified organic products,” she added.

OTA outlined a list of essential components needed for meaningful co-existence of organic and GE crops, including but not limited to:

  • Assignment of liability to the GE patent holder, including a system of compensation for losses due to inadvertent contamination,
  • Compensation for perpetual costs of co-existence including testing and commingling prevention throughout the supply chain,
  • Preservation of seed stock supply and genetic diversity—critical to food security,
  • Comprehensive environmental, public health and socio-economic assessments prior to deregulation,
  • Retention of regulatory authority by USDA after deregulating GE crops through creation of “commercialization permits” that place the burden of contamination prevention on the planters of GE crops versus the current model where the burden is borne solely by non-GE and organic farmers and handlers,
  •  Labeling of GE crops and product ingredients.
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