The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been caught in the cross hairs of several court cases recently involving genetically engineered (GE) crops. The most recent include GE alfalfa and GE sugar beets.
A Supreme Court case this summer on RR alfalfa required a final EIS be put into place before growers can again plant RR alfalfa.
In hopes of preventing courts from telling farmers what they can and cannot plant, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack announced USDA has come out with a revised Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for RR alfalfa which provides one alternative to typical deregulation by deregulating GE alfalfa but also taking into account geographic restrictions and isolation differences. Vilsack said the timeline should allow for planting this spring.
Vilsack told reporters in a press conference, that the agency heard clearly from judges and plaintiffs that the deregulation process of genetically engineered crop lacked thorough environmental and economic impacts. As such, the latest EIS "puts more options on the table" as well as meets the needs of companies developing GE products and provides growers a choice whether it is to grow organically, non-GE or GE crops.
By listing both deregulation option and the other deregulation accompanied by a combination of isolation distances and geographic restrictions as preferred, USDA has considered plant pest issues as well as broader environmental and economic issues related to the coexistence between genetically engineered, non-genetically engineered, and organic alfalfa production, the agency said.
Vilsack also called for a collaborative discussion on strengthening coexistence. He noted that organic, non-GE and GE producers should be able to thrive together. "We will partner with all those who want to roll up their sleeves and work with us and each other to find commonsense solutions to today's challenges," he said.
Vilsack criticized how current court systems are telling farmers what they can and cannot plant. His goal for the collaborative discussions would be to "give courts options that don't exist today." He added, "We shouldn't let decisions about coexistence be set by litigation."
The questions remain whether 1) if all those interested in the issue will indeed come to the table to talk things out and 2) if any agreement reached will actually slow the continual tool of anti-biotechnology groups to stall approvals through the courts.
Read a Q&A on the EIS.
Policy is one of the most important issues facing farmers today, but often the most difficult to digest. Jacqui Fatka has a passion to decode the often difficult world of agricultural policy into terms understandable for today's ag players.
Fatka joined the Farm Progress team as E-Content Editor in August 2003 after graduating from Iowa State University. Prior to full-time employment with Farm Progress, she interned at Wallaces Farmer magazine, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley's press office and the Iowa Pork Producers Association and freelanced for National Hog Farmer. She also worked as a public relations consultant with Iowa Industries for the Future, an effort to bring together major players in the biorenewables industry.
Currently Fatka is a staff editor at a sister publication, Feedstuffs. For Farm Futures she regularly tells the story of ongoing agricultural policy changes. Her byline can also be found on management profiles.
Fatka grew up on a grain and livestock farm near Atlantic, Iowa. She currently lives in central Ohio with her husband Eric, and their three children - Josiah, Spencer and Avonell.
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