USDA/FDA Comment Period Closes on Proposed Changes to GE Oversight

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Concerned Americans Say New GMO Regs Would Make Oversight Worse, Not Better
By Center for Food Safety
Center for Food Safety | June 19th, 2017

Today marks the close of three U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) public comment periods on proposed changes to the oversight of genetically engineered (GE) crops and animals. Nearly 100,000 individuals, along with 65 leading environmental, food safety, consumer, and farm groups, are calling on USDA and FDA to substantially strengthen their proposed rules to better protect farmers, the general public and the environment from harmful GE plants and risky GE animals.

USDA is revising its three decade-old rules governing GE plants and other GE organisms. While USDA today has more authority to strengthen oversight, its proposed new rules would weaken it. Many GE organisms would be exempted from regulation altogether. Ongoing harms caused by pesticide-promoting GE crops would remain unaddressed. USDA would stop regulating risky GE plants engineered as “biofactories” to produce experimental pharmaceutical and industrial compounds. Definitional loopholes would permit many novel GE crops to escape all but superficial review. Overall, the USDA’s proposed new rules abandon sound science in favor of promoting the interests of the biotechnology industry.

"The haphazard and negligent regulation of agricultural biotechnology has been nothing short of a disaster for the public and the environment. While USDA should be protecting farmers and the environment, it has instead turned a blind eye to the harms that GE crops cause," said George Kimbrell, legal director at Center for Food Safety (CFS). "Unfortunately, the proposed rules would make things worse, not better, with less oversight, not more. Today Americans are demanding that USDA reverse this dangerous proposal and enact responsible regulation, not continue doing Monsanto’s bidding."

USDA’s proposed rules would continue to permit large increases in the use of harmful chemicals with new herbicide-resistant GE crops, and do nothing to stop the epidemic of resistant superweeds or crop-damaging herbicide drift that plagues farmers. Transgenic contamination would continue unchecked, harming conventional and organic growers. Newer GE crops like grasses and trees will create even greater novel risks.

“USDA’s proposal discounts well-established scientific evidence showing that GE crops increase overall pesticide use, endangering public health and the environment,” added Bill Freese, CFS’s science policy analyst.

In addition to the USDA comment period, FDA has requested comments on how to regulate GE animals and GE plants developed with new genetic engineering techniques. Surprisingly, FDA has never issued rules for assessing genetically engineered animals. Instead, GE animals are reviewed under entirely inappropriate regulations designed for new animal drugs. Last year, the FDA approved genetically engineered salmon using its outdated animal drug rules—an approval Center for Food Safety is currently challenging in court.

“This approval could set a dangerous precedent for other genetically engineered animals in the pipeline, from genetically engineered fish, to cows, chickens, and pigs,” said Dana Perls, senior food and technology campaigner with Friends of the Earth U.S. “Some of these genetically engineered animals are being designed to better fit into and perpetuate the current broken factory farm model and are virtually unregulated and inadequately assessed.”

The groups contend that the lack of regulations specific to GE animals allows the FDA to overlook a host of serious risks posed by the genetic manipulation of animals. These concerns are shared by many scientists, and include environmental contamination, harm to endangered species, unpredictable genetic responses, and potential generation of surprise toxins and allergens in GE animal-derived foods, among other unintended consequences.

Read the groups’ comments to USDA here
Read the groups’ comments to FDA here
Read CFS's comments to FDA here

Signatures and organizational comments were collected and submitted to the docket by Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth U.S.

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