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USDA's biotech ag alliance efforts likely to end in futility or worse

USDA's biotech ag alliance efforts likely to end in futility or worse

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at least gets credit for trying to forge a coexistence alliance between those who advocate biotech agriculture and those who do not want any part of it.

This lofty goal came out of the recently released USDA-APHIS Environmental Impact Statement to pave the way for resumption of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed sales. Vilsack wants to gather everyone together and see if he can broker such a lofty union and keep RR alfalfa and other ag biotech issues out of the courts.

It is too late to gather everyone around the campfire to sing Kumbaya and have a group hug. Too many lies have told by the anti-biotech crowd and too many legal bills paid. Besides, for groups like the Organic Trade Association and the Center for Food Safety to publicly endorse biotech crops — with any kind of reasonable regulatory system — would be like trying to convince a laughing hyena to be quiet. Lawyers at the Center for Food Safety have publicly vowed to rid the world of biotech crops. They won’t go back on that goal.

More importantly, however, rather than trying to pave a pathway to coexistence, Vilsack could very well have handed the radical socialists wanting to ban biotech crops a powerful tool they could use to file more lawsuits. (I have justifiably been criticized for calling the anti-biotech bunch “whacko environmentalists.”) That is an insult to environmentalists, which certainly includes farmers; I will refrain from calling whackos whackos from now on.

USDA has proposed what it calls two acceptable alternatives for resumption of RR alfalfa seed in 2011; one is to deregulate RR alfalfa altogether and the other is to deregulate it with a bunch of isolation and geographic restrictions that are ludicrous; such as outrageous regulations like banning RR alfalfa seed production from counties where alfalfa forages are planted.

A 5-mile isolation between biotech alfalfa seed fields and conventional seed fields is preposterous. It’s only 156 feet in California for certified seed fields.

Not surprising, the Organic Trade Association likes what USDA-APHIS is proposing. OTA does not get much right, but they hit it on the head when the said the EIS represents a “shift in policy at USDA regarding GE deregulation.”

OTA is going into the USDA Kumbaya gathering with no compromise in mind and wanting to capitalize on that shift. Reports are circulating that USDA-APHIS will consider making GE patent holders liable for “losses due to inadvertent contamination.” That is a cornerstone of OTA’s list of anti-biotech rules it wants.

No invite list has been published, but reportedly Whole Foods, the upscale organic supermarket chain, has been invited.

Not invited is the National Corn Growers Association, which has far more at stake in this dogfight than Whole Foods. If Vilsack gets his way, other biotech crops could be put in peril in the U.S. There are too many acres in GE crops to reverse approvals, but it would cost millions in legal fees to fight off lawsuits using the USDA rules as precedents to regulate other biotech crops.

I am not anti-organic. It is an important part of California commercial agriculture. Farmers are willing to make a philosophical buck, and they are playing by the organic certification rules. That proves farmers now coexist with their neighbors with existing regulations. OT says organic food sales represented approximately 3.7 percent of total U.S. food sales. It may be growing at breakneck speed, but it has a long, long way to go before it catches up even with the other 96.3 percent.

And the No. 1 fact that keeps being ignored: No consumer or farmer has been damaged or hurt by a biotech crop. Zero. Why can't USDA and others realize that? There is no devil in biotech crops. Cross contamination? You are going to get that if 100 miles separate fields because you can detect just about anything today.

The world’s food supply is declining because land suitable for farming is disappearing as the world fills up more people. Rather than try to appease the unappeasable, Vilsack should fish and stop cutting bait. Let RR alfalfa out of the box so farmers can have it.

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