USDA Wants to Fast-Track Approvals Of GMOs
Public interest in genetically modified (GMO) crop approvals and legal challenges to those approvals, along with increasing demand for more organic foods, is leading the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to…speed up the approval process for more genetically modified crops, according to Bloomberg News.
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In an interview with the news service, USDA deputy administrator Michael Gregoire said that the agency wants to cut in half the time it takes for Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, and other chemical and seed companies to get their genetically modified crops to market, from the current average of three years to just 18 months. Some crops could be approved in little over a year from the time the application is submitted.
The USDA actually announced these changes last November, but hasn't made them available for public comment yet. According to Bloomberg, the agency plans to fast-track approvals by inviting public comment earlier in the approval process, rather than at the end, as is currently the case. That will, supposedly, allow the USDA to "address any concerns as they conduct their environmental analysis and risk assessment." Biotech industry analysts who were interviewed for the story cited increased competition from countries like Brazil for chemical companies' desire to get more crops to market.
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"They are trying to work the system so they can dismiss public comments more quickly and easily, in order to speed things up," Bill Freese, a policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, told Bloomberg. "It's a rubber-stamp system. A real regulatory system will occasionally reject something."
The USDA doesn't have a good track record of rejecting much of anything when it comes to biotech companies. Last year, the public left more than 250,000 (mostly negative) comments related to genetically modified alfalfa, or hay, yet the agency approved the crop anyway. This past January, Monsanto's genetically modified sweet corn, the first genetically modified crop intended for direct human consumption (most crops are fed to animals or used in processed foods) was approved, in spite of 45,000 comments opposed to it and just 23 in favor.
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So even the fact that the public comment period will open earlier in the process doesn't necessarily mean anything—except that dangerous crops like corn resistant to the toxic herbicide 2,4-D, known to cause birth defects and other developmental problems, will get to market faster. Currently, the USDA is considering 22 applications for genetically modified crops, including a variety of soy bred by Monsanto to have such high levels of omega-3 fatty acids doctors don't think it's safe to eat.