The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced today its final decision to deregulate a variety of sugar beet, commonly known as Roundup Ready (RR) sugar beets, that is genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate.
APHIS said the following in a statement: “After completing both a thorough environmental impact statement (EIS) and plant pest risk assessment (PPRA), holding three public meetings and considering and analyzing thousands of comments regarding its analyses, APHIS has determined that, from the standpoint of plant pest risk, RR sugar beets are as safe as traditionally bred sugar beets.”
This decision comes as good news to farmers, who can now freely cultivate the sugar beets, benefitting from a technology that allows more precise and environmentally benign control of weeds. Read more.
In a speech to the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Private Sector Day, Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska emphasized the importance of agricultural biotechnology for world food security and the need for minimizing regulatory delays to the approval of biotech products.
He explained his support for adopting biotechnology worldwide to meet global demand for food. “It is vital for the United States and other countries to support science-based standards and systems that will bring agricultural biotechnology products to the market to meet this demand.”
Senator Johanns pointed out the contributions of biotechnology to soybean and corn production. “Technological advances have not only increased yields, they have also increased the efficiency with which the crop is produced.”
When noting that the length of time for USDA deregulation has increased on average by more than 700 percent, he said, “We risk jeopardizing the tremendous progress we have made in food production.”
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.