USDA: “GMO contamination happens”

By Ken Roseboro, editor, The Organic & Non-GMO Report

Since 2000, there have been six known incidents of unapproved genetically modified corn and rice entering the US food supply or exports.

Common sense would seem to dictate that the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) would want to tighten its oversight of GM crops and force biotechnology companies to make sure their unapproved GMOs stay out of Americans’ corn flakes.

This is exactly what the Government Accounting Office (GAO) called for. Following the most recent contamination incident involving an unapproved GM cotton from Monsanto mixing with conventional cotton, GAO called for more oversight and coordination among federal agencies—attention USDA—to prevent unapproved GMOs from getting into the food supply.

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin said, “When unapproved genetically engineered crops are detected in the food and feed supply, food safety concerns rise, markets are disrupted and consumer confidence falls.”

“Lessen the regulatory burden”
Unbelievably, USDA’s plan proposes less oversight, wanting to “lessen the regulatory burden” on biotechnology companies, to quote APHIS spokeswoman, Rachel Iadicicco.

Unfortunately, the government’s track record of lessening the regulatory burden does not inspire much confidence, as demonstrated by the recent collapse of major Wall Street banks.

This has not dissuaded the USDA. In fact, USDA states that in some cases it doesn’t want to do anything when unapproved GMOs end up in our food.

APHIS’s plan states that “a low level presence of [GM] plant materials in seeds or grain may not be cause for agency remedial action,” saying such incidents will be evaluated on a “case-by-case basis” and may be “non-actionable.”

Basically, USDA is saying that GMO contamination happens, so we might as well let it happen.

Does that mean that when some GM corn, which contains genes from some unclassified organism found 20,000 leagues beneath the sea (see Syngenta’s new GM ethanol corn), gets into someone’s taco shell and causes anaphylactic shock that USDA will consider it “non-actionable?” I would hope not.

“Serious abdication of responsibility”
The Union of Concerned Scientists lambasted the USDA’s proposed rulemaking as “a serious abdication of its responsibility.”

Biotechnology companies are obviously pleased that USDA wants to lessen their regulatory burden, allowing them to avoid responsibility for contaminating the food supply. Monsanto, whose unapproved GM cotton recently got mixed with conventional cotton, expressed its full support of the new rules. A spokesman for Syngenta, which in March 2005 revealed that it had “inadvertently” sold an unapproved GM corn for three years, said that it was “appropriate to establish science-based criteria by which regulated material would be considered ‘not-actionable’ by the agency.”

APHIS’s new GMO regulations were proposed in the waning days of the Bush Administration. Hopefully, the Obama Administration will ditch these proposals and tighten the “regulatory burden” on companies who should be held accountable if their GMOs contaminate the food supply.

© Copyright March 2009, The Organic & Non-GMO Report