This morning the House Agriculture Committee held a public forum to review the biotechnology product regulatory approval process. Discussion focused on the USDA’s pending decision on biotech alfalfa which considers three options: no deregulation, total deregulation, or partial deregulation with isolation standards to prevent contamination of non-GM crops.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack affirmed that the USDA will make a decision driven by science. He expressed his support for the role that biotechnology plays in increasing productivity and helping to feed a growing world population. “We believe that biotechnology stands to play a significant role in our effort to support our drive toward energy independence, conserve our natural resources, and meet the world’s growing demand for food, feed, fiber, and fuel,” he said. The USDA has approved 75 biotech products. He estimates that deregulation with isolation conditions could mean that close to 20% of land would be off limits for growing GE alfalfa.
Charles Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, pointed out that biotech crops are an important source of income for farmers and ensure that productivity keeps pace with demand. In 2008, before biotech alfalfa was withheld from the market, he said that farmers benefited from higher productivity and a $110 increase in profit per acre. Based on his assessment of the USDA’s pending decision, Mr. Conner said the USDA should have no authority other than to deregulate the product since scientific review under the Plant Protection Act has confirmed its safety.