Neev M. Arnell
May 2, 2011
Last August, a federal judge admonished the USDA for approving genetically modified seeds without first doing the required environmental impact study. Now, the USDA has a solution–allow the biotech industry to conduct the studies itself. This means that Monsanto and other biotech companies will decide whether to approve their own products.
In the case brought last August by environmentalists and the Center for Food Safety, Federal Judge Jeffrey White ruled that the USDA violated the National Environmental Policy Act in deregulating Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beet seeds in 2005 and banned planting of the crop until the environmental impact study was complete. The USDA ignored the ban, according to Popular Science (http://bit.ly/kc8H9M), and ignored White’s subsequent order to destroy the crops once they had been planted.
The USDA ignored the directives because, according to a recent Grist article (http://bit.ly/fniqCr) it worried a GMO sugar beet ban would cause sweetener prices to rise. “Thus the USDA places the food industry’s right to cheap sweetener for its junk food over the dictates of a federal court” Grist says.
Roundup Ready sugar beets would likely not stand up to an independent environmental impact assessment, the Grist article noted. Sugar beets are largely grown in an area of Oregon the produces crops closely related to sugar beets, such as chard. The GM beets could damage the organic and non-GMO crops through cross-pollination.
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Also, problems with Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide would likely come to light. Heavy applications of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide on its other herbicide-resistant GM crops, such as corn and soy, have created the increasing problem of herbicide-resistant “superweeds.” According to another Grist article (http://bit.ly/9unbhp), farmers had to abandon thousands of acres in the South due to new strains of giant pigweed. The article also showed a major ingredient in Roundup to be much more harmful to the environment than previously proclaimed.
Part of the reasoning for the USDA to allow the biotech industry to do its own studies is that a draft environmental assessment can cost anywhere from $60,000 to $1 million, Grist says. Letting companies do the studies would save money and fast-track the process.
Critics of GM crops argue the set-up is likely to result in biased and inaccurate information, according to agriculture journal Capital Press. By allowing biotech developers to conduct their own environmental assessments, the process becomes subject to conflicts of interest, said Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety.
“It’s like asking BP to write an assessment of an offshore drilling operation,” he said. “The pilot program basically treats the environmental review process as a ‘rubber stamp’ for getting biotech crops to market more quickly.”
Sources for this article include:
Capital Press: USDA plans to outsource biotech studies — http://www.capitalpress.com/mobile/…
Popular Science: Government Says Biotech Companies Can Be Their Own Safety Testers, Letting the fox guard the henhouse? — http://www.popsci.com/technology/ar…