The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

GOP trio questions engineered alfalfa approval process

On the eve of a House Agriculture Committee public forum on the biotechnology regulatory approval process, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said today they had sent Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack a letter questioning USDA’s process for approving the planting of genetically engineered alfalfa.

In the January 18 letter, Chambliss, Rogers and Lucas noted that USDA recently proposed allowing the planting of genetically engineered alfalfa, but also establishing geographic restrictions and isolation distances so that there would not be a fear of pollen drift toward organic crops. The environmental impact statement on genetically engineered alfalfa concluded that it does not pose a plant pest risk, but Vilsack said in December 30 letter to those involved in the issue that “The rapid adoption of GE crops has clashed with the rapid expansion of demand for organic and other non-GE products. This clash led to litigation and uncertainty. Such litigation will potentially lead to the courts deciding who gets to farm their way and who will be prevented from doing so.”

The three Republican legislators wrote: “It is unfortunate that those critical of the technology have decided to litigate and as you rightly point out that courts may unwisely interfere in normal commerce. However, the alternative you propose and include in the EIS is equally disturbing since it politicizes the regulatory process and goes beyond your statutory authority and indeed Congress’ intent in the Plant Protection Act (PPA). The PPA requires the Secretary to make a scientific determination if the product under review is a plant pest (7 U.S.C. 7711(c)(3)). If the final decision is that the product is not a plant pest, nor would the movement of the product in question impose the risk of dissemination of a plant pest, then USDA has no authority to impose further restrictions (7 U.S.C. 7712(a)).”