While activists have been pushing for years to have more oversight and more scientific analysis in the approval process for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), it looks like the Obama administration is moving in the other direction.
Michael Gregoire, a USDA deputy administrator, said today they are looking to streamline the approval process and cut the time it takes to get new biotech crops approved (currently about three years) in half.
Under the rule changes, new versions of existing crop technologies, such as corn that produces a naturally occurring pesticide, would undergo a review lasting about 13 months, Gregoire said. That would be accomplished by making the agency’s determination final after a 30-day public review period, he said.
For new technologies, such as a crops engineered to tolerate a new herbicide, there will be a second comment period after the agency makes its preliminary decision, extending the overall duration of the review to about 16 months, he said.
And in a time of budget cuts for everyone from toddlers to grannies, somehow the USDA has gotten more money for its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) budget for biotech regulation - almost a 50% increase, to $18 million, which should also let them rush things through even quicker. Monsanto does seem to have a lot of friends in Washington. (See: Monsanto employees in the halls of government.)
There are currently 22 biotech crops under review. Thirteen of those are modified for herbicide resistance, such as Dow Chemical’s corn that is resistant to the herbicide 2,4-D (one of the main ingredients in Agent Orange, used during the Vietnam War); today the USDA gave in to pressure from the Center for Food Safety and extended the public input period until April.
Currently, the USDA waits until the end of the process to seek public input, which means there’s a last-minute rush. Gregoire says they’ll now look for public input from the very beginning of the process so they’ll be better able to address concerns.
Of course, it’s more likely they’ll continue to ignore us, as they’ve done in every case so far (See: Did the White House pressure USDA to approve GMO alfalfa?). That’s how Bill Freese at the Center for Food Safety sees it, anyway. “They are trying to work the system so they can dismiss public comments more quickly and easily in order to speed things up,” Freese told Bloomberg.com. “It’s a rubber-stamp system.”
If there was one thing we didn’t really need, it was to make it easier for big chemical companies to ram through inadequately tested agricultural products that encourage the rampant use of pesticides. But that’s what we’re getting.
Monsanto already dominates US agriculture, controlling 90 percent or more of the seeds for corn, soybeans, cotton, and sugar beets.